Like the last minute of a close NBA basketball game, California’s senate supermajority called timeout before making its big play against Proposition 13. The senate considered four constitutional amendments that would raise taxes with a 55 percent vote instead of the two-thirds vote requirement that Proposition 13 imposes on special taxes for specific purposes. The senate has a whole slew of special purposes for which they would like to make it easier to raise taxes: schools, libraries, economic development projects, special district activities.
While the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee passed the constitutional amendments, they moved the measures to the Senate Rules Committee instead of to the Senate floor. They will sit there until next year when the senate can have a “broader conversation” about the changes to Prop 13.
Of course, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who already signaled that 2013 was not the year to deal with Proposition 13, controls the Rules Committee.
While Steinberg last week hailed the power of the supermajority in passing an extension of a managed care tax, why did the senate pause on moving ahead with the Prop 13 changes, a goal many in the majority party have held for a long time?
One reason is to put off passing the Prop 13 changes as long as possible to delay the buildup of opposition to the plan. Senators don’t want to have a year-plus of explaining to constituents why they want to mess with Prop 13, which still is strongly supported by the voters.
While the “broader conversation” is supposedly directed at policy changes, there is also the political conversation that will take place. Will a vote for making it easier to raise taxes put some legislators in jeopardy of losing their seat and the Democrats in jeopardy of losing their supermajority?
Then there is the possibility that the pause is just to put together the “big play” as they do at the end of those basketball games. Instead of four separate measures lowering the two-thirds vote to 55 percent, each for a specific purpose, an attempt would be made to create one constitutional amendment to lower all special tax votes from two-thirds to 55 percent — one measure for the voters to consider rather than a whole ballot full.