In the days ahead, you may hear Gov. Jerry Brown or his fellow Democrats (or even anti-tax groups on the right) accuse Assembly Republicans of extortion.
If you do, you can ignore the charge – and savor the irony. The Republicans are toying a familiar extortion tool for which Brown bears special responsibility.
That tool is the 2/3 vote for passing changes in taxes. It began with Prop 13’s 2/3 requirement for tax increases in 1978—a political and budget earthquake for which Brown bears heavy responsibility (his inaction contributed to Prop 13’s victory, which he then embraced during his election campaign). Brown has refused to go after this great centralizing force in California politics. And so he should accept responsibility for the way minority parties use the 2/3 requirement to extra concessions when a tax must be raised.
More recently, Brown has repeatedly championed – and celebrated the so-called 2010 reforms in California, which included redistricting, top two and Prop 26. This last was the bitter pill of a package that included Prop 25, which ended the 2/3 vote requirement for passing state budgets. Prop 26 extended and deepened the Prop 13 requirement for 2/3 votes for tax increases to create an effective 2/3 vote for anything that involves changing taxes, including tax cuts.
This is relevant now, with the governor and legislator negotiating over Brown’s proposed tax package on healthcare plans. There are different interpretations about what to call this tax, or whether it should be seen as a tax increase or a cut on taxes. But it doesn’t matter—in the California governance system Brown (and the voters and Prop 13’s many defenders) have given us, 2/3 are needed, and the minority party must use its leverage to extort.
That’s what Assembly Republicans are now doing. And while they will face criticism for it, they are right to extort. They’re asking for money for the developmentall disabled, for nursing facilities, and to cover retiree health care liabilities and repay transportation loans.
Some of those asks could add to the budget, which is of course very familiar. Prop 13 is routinely described as a fiscal restraint, when it’s often been the opposite – when you need two-thirds vote, there are more people you have to pay off.
But no whining. This is the system that everyone seems to want – a system that Brown has declined to change.