Fixing the Supermajorities: Budget, Taxes or Both?

MediaNews has a story about the grassroots/institutional divide over the question of how to challenge the supermajorities.

A split between Democratic activists and the political pros who run the party may be growing over how to approach the issue that has bedeviled the party for years: the two-thirds vote required to pass taxes and budgets in the Legislature.

Most Democrats in the upper echelons of the party apparatus are convinced it’s a fool’s errand to try to persuade voters to hand the majority party unchecked power to raise taxes. Instead, they’re gearing up for a campaign next year to lower the threshold – from two-thirds of both legislative bodies to a simple majority – on budget votes only, a path they believe voters can embrace.

But some grass roots liberals say they’re frustrated with the caution of party leaders and believe, if sold right, voters would hand over both taxing and budgeting powers to the majority party. (CoCo Times 9/21/09)

I’m not sure this is totally accurate.  Not all elected Democrats agree with the assesment of what has been called by some as the institutional position.  Specifically, at the Progressive Caucus breakout groups, Sen. Hancock (D-Berkeley) and Asm. Torrico (D-Fremont), disagreed on this subject.  Sen. Hancock took the so-called institutional position of challenging the budget side, and then moving on to revenue.  Asm. Torrico said you have to do both at one time.

The article goes on to point out the CA-Majority-Rule website that was organized by Susie Shannon and Deana Igelsrud, and their effort to organize funding for a poll based on the work of Berkeley professor George Lakoff. (Incidentally, you can donate here) The poll will probably yield some interesting data, but I think the question of viability misses the gorilla in the room.

Budget/ Taxes Budget 2/3 Budget Majority
Revenue 2/3 Status quo: Parties get to blame each other and we keep on fighting a losing battle. Democrats are stuck with accountability for bad budgets during revenue declines without control of the tax structure
Revenue Majority Not going to happen: nobody is going to put this situation on the ballot and it wouldn’t pass Optimal: Democrats get to sink or swim.  We have the majorities; under this plan we get to see how Democrats would really govern.
Specifically, I think it is clear that a measure to get majority rule on the budget will be a lot easier victory.  However, the question is whether a world where we have complete power over the budget without revenue authority is a good thing for Democrats.  I’ve even made a little matrix (–>) Because with power, comes accountability, whether justified or not.  So, as it stands, neither party has complete authority over the budget. And thus, each party can point the finger at the other for portions of the budget that are unpopular.

But what happens when we win just the budget measure? Sure, we’ll get a heck of a lot more authority over the budget.  Policy wise, that’s a really good thing.  But politics wise, you have to wonder if that’s really so great.  When the cuts are made, guess who gets the “credit” (aka, electoral anvil)? Yup, we get left holding the bag for the mess, without the tools to fix it.  Seems like a bit of Pyrrhic victory to me.

There’s a reason why the Constitutional Convention idea is so appealing: the entire system is messed up, and far past the point of one fix having anything than a minor difference in how the system functions as a whole.

4 thoughts on “Fixing the Supermajorities: Budget, Taxes or Both?”

  1. I’m not advocating such tactics — but it seems inevitable that as soon the Republicans lost the two-thirds vote for budgets (assuming the status quo on taxes), it would be hardball time when it came to GOP spending priorities. Not sure whether that would persuade some Republicans to budge a bit on taxes, or just lead to further loathing by aggrieved rural residents of their L.A./Bay Area overlords …

  2. Didn’t Burton pledge to seek overturn of both 2/3 rules as a condition of his candidacy for party chair?  Or was it only with regard to budget?


  3. With your help fiscally dysfunctional California can pass a ballot measure authored by Dr. George Lakoff that says,

    All legislative actions on revenue and budget must be determined by a majority vote.

    Help California Majority Rule pass the Democracy In California Act!

    Please consider these equations:

    Majority rule = democracy = 50%+1

    In grade school we elect the class president by majority rule; it is the basis of democracy. Majority rule is more democratic than minority rule.

    Minority rule = tyranny = protection of loopholes & freeloaders = 33.3%+1 veto

    The current 2/3 requirement allows a 1/3 plus 1 minority of extreme legislators to sabotage the state budget and hold the state hostage in order to extort concessions from the majority, resulting in budget cuts passed down to local governments throughout the state.  Extortions include off shore oil drilling concessions.  

    Government that fails to empower and protect citizens = dysfunctional state

    The California State Legislature and government at all levels have responsibilities, to empower and protect its citizens.  Empowerment means education, infrastructure, buildings, and highways.  Protection means health, safety, police, fire and consumer protection.  The legislature determines how and whether these responsibilities are met through providing revenues and a budget.  Revenue is needed for government to do its job.  Revenue is economic air and California is being slowly suffocated and is prevented from protecting and empowering Californians by a minority of legislators protecting loopholes for freeloaders.

    Fair revenue in a wealthy state – revenue lost to loopholes & freeloaders = extreme budget cuts & lost pay for state workers

    California is the only dysfunctional state that faces fiscal crisis on a regular basis.  California is also wealthy, so why don’t we have the money to run the state?  The answer is loopholes used by freeloaders to circumvent paying a fair

    Minority rule loophole = all the loopholes minority rule prevents from closing

    The biggest loophole is the minority veto that 1/3 plus one of the legislature uses to protect those taking advantage of the loopholes from being required to pay a fair share.  Loopholes include not paying to extract California oil as in all the other oil producing states.

    Minority ruled California = only fiscally dysfunctional state in the US

    Two other states have a minority rule situations but they don’t experience California’s dysfunctions. Freeloaders find that supporting legislation and electing legislators to protect freeloader loopholes is much less costly than what would happen if the loopholes closed.  

    Budget control alone = disaster

    Marketing guru Tom Peters says “under promise and over deliver” it keeps customers satisfied.  If a “majority for budget only proposition” passes the voters (customers) will expect an end to the fiscal gridlock from the Democrats since this is what the Democrats asked for.  However without “majority rule for revenue” the Democrats can’t deliver California from gridlock.  “Over promise and under deliver” is the formula for disaster for Democrats.

    You = Game Changer

    Volunteer at

    NEEDED Speakers for our speakers bureau, Signature gathering, Tabling, Events, Attend – House Parties, Host – House Parties, Fundraising, Precinct Captain, Canvassing, Phone Banking, Blogging, Letter Writing, Graphic Design, Lawyers and  Empathetic Responsible Courageous Activists of all kinds.  

    We took back our country last year; it’s time to return democracy to California.  

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