The emerging media and political narrative around the Brown
budget plan puts the blame on legislative Republicans. Why won’t they play
ball? Why won’t they fall in line? Why don’t they support tax hikes – or at
least putting tax extensions on the ballot?

The answer
is: they don’t have any reason to do so.

Republicans, in opposing taxes in
any form, are doing what they were elected to do.

Republicans represent regions with broad interests. But the people who show up,
vote and determine the results of legislative elections in Republican districts
abhor taxes above all else. These people may be irresponsible or even insane.
They may be relatively small in number. But they are well represented by
Republican lawmakers.

If the
Democratic strategy is to pressure Republicans to betray those voters, good

The problem
in California’s budget system is not Republicans. The problem is the system –
both the election system and the governing system. And the way that elections
and governing work – or more accurately, don’t work – together.

election system is designed to turn small numbers of votes into a majority. But
the governing system is based on so many special rules and supermajorities that
it permits minority rule. Republicans are thus given the power to hold up
fiscal issues and block the majority will, which is open to a mix of spending
cuts and tax increases.

Republicans should not have that
leverage-and it would be in the party’s and the state’s best interest if they
didn’t have the supermajorities to lean on for leverage. But at the same time,
it’s not really fair to blame Republicans for using that leverage to take
hostages and stop things they don’t like.

No, the
blame should fall on Democrats, independents and commentators who rail against
the Republicans – but also say that systemic reform is strange, unrealistic or

If you want
to fix the budget, stop complaining about the Republicans – and fix the budget
process. This means changing both the budget rules – including eliminating
two-thirds rules and other kinds of mandates that reduce discretion and give
the minority leverage.

Reform also means changing the way
the legislature is elected. A proportional representation system for selecting
legislators would force Republicans to compete for more voters in more places –
and expand their program and appeal. It also would diminish the power of the
small minority of single-issue, anti-tax voters.

In a better system, Republicans
would prosper not by using two-thirds leverage to take hostages – but by
working together to offer a coherent alternative to the majority party’s
budget. And by becoming the majority if that alternative resonates with voters.