Goodbye, Supermajorities

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

I’m not a Democrat, but I once had high hopes for the legislative Democratic supermajorities. California’s governance system is so supermajority mad – we added a new one by Prop 47 in this election – that legislative supermajorities offered the promise of action on taxes, spending and constitutional revision that the state has needed for decades. Surely, Democrats would use this power.

As we know from watching the last two years, they didn’t. Instead, the Democrats preached caution and largely locked deeper into the system the budget austerity that the broken governance system and the Great Recession wrought. Did they restructure the tax system to increase revenues and improve competitiveness? No? Did they remove restraints on democratic decision-making and budgeting? No. Did they pass constitutional changes or pursue a broader constitutional convention or revision commission? No.

And were they going to pursue such reforms in the years to come? No, as Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators made clear.

So it’s hard to be disappointed by the loss of those supermajorities in this election. The Democrats weren’t going to use them to make big changes anyway. And the Democrats themselves didn’t make the supermajorities a stated priority in messaging to voters.

The bad news is that Republicans can go back to their hostage-taking methods, as a way to get priorities and money for favored projects into budgets and legislation. The good news is that there is one less reason for the rest of us to wait on broad redesign of the state’s tax, budget and governance systems. There’s simply no way that the majority party is going to do that for us.

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