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2013 May not be the Year of the Supermajority

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

Despite all the chatter about the Democrats’ supermajority control of the legislature, it very well could be 2014 that is the year of the supermajority, not 2013. The unexpected success of the Democrats to capture two-thirds of both houses of the legislature during the November election led many pundits to conjecture that the Democratic legislators will charge into the New Year using their new power to make many changes that require a two-thirds vote. We have heard that they would pass tax increases, remove or reduce tax credits, put changes to the initiative process on the ballot and even undo parts of Prop 13, among other things.

We also listened to the voices of restraint: Not so fast. Those voices may be right: It likely could happen — just not so fast.

Consider these items. Because of political leapfrogging, in which vacancies occur in the legislature because some members were elected to Congress, where others soon may leave if they secure other positions such as seats on the Los Angeles City Council, the full strength of the two-thirds vote may not be in place for some time.

Further, Democratic leaders have suggested that the new two-thirds majority must be judicious in the use of this new power. Senate president pro tem, Darrell Steinberg, and assembly speaker, John Perez, have said they will not let this new power go their head.

Importantly, Governor Jerry Brown, who’s veto pen can stand against a charging legislature like the 300 Spartans holding back the throngs of Persians at Thermopylae, has indicated he will not allow a rampaging majority party to rearrange the laws of the state as easily as rearranging some lawn furniture.

The supermajority may not dominate in 2013. However, it will be tested in 2013 and ultimately will be used to make or propose changes in the way California government works, but perhaps not for a year.

Once the full supermajority is in place, and the feeling out process with the people (through polling or feedback on proposed law changes) has run its course, expect efforts to use the supermajority to move forward. It likely would be 2014 by then.

If legislators wait until early 2014, they would still have plenty of time to put constitutional changes on the November 2014 ballot. Waiting would also give opponents to the constitutional change proposals less time to build grassroots and donor support.

Rushing tax changes or tax increases following the ballot successes of tax increase measures Propositions 30 and 39 may strike the public as government overkill. Once another year has passed, however, if the desired revenues were not collected (and when do those who spend that revenue ever consider they have enough to spend?!), the supermajority would be willing to attempt to secure more.

In practical terms, there is no sense in having the long sought power of a supermajority, unless you use it. That fact is not lost on the leaders who now are publicly talking about restraint. Timing is what will determine when best to push for two-thirds votes.

The only complication those leaders have to deal with is if the stars are aligned to use the supermajority vote in 2014, that also happens to be an election year. Will each member of the majority party be willing to go along with high profile and controversial changes in the law when they have to face voters a few months later?

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