Democrats' power offers rare opportunity in Sacramento

From the moment it became evident that Democrats had won supermajorities in both houses of the California Legislature, the knee-jerk reporting of that phenomenon has boiled down to a single sentence: Now they can raise taxes.

Let me interrupt that narrative with a news flash: That's not going to happen.

Yes, it's true that any bill to raise taxes in California requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. And, yes, it's true that, come Dec. 3, Democrats will have a two-thirds majority in both the Assembly and Senate.

But voters just enacted a substantial tax increase by approving Proposition 30, and the last thing Democratic leaders want to do is to sour that sweet victory by piling more tax increases on top.

And Jerry Brown will still be governor for at least another two years.

As Assembly Speaker John P?ez, D-Los Angeles, noted in his post-election news conference, that means tax increases won't be on the agenda.

"The governor's been very clear that the only way to raise taxes, as long as he is governor, is a direct vote of the people," P?ez said. "He's never equivocated, and we've never asked him to." So if Democrats won't use their supermajorities to raise taxes, what might they use them for? The most promising idea is to give voters a chance to do something they have long been clamoring for, which is to fix California's broken initiative system.

With a two-thirds majority vote, the Legislature can place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.

More than that, it can place a constitutional revision on the ballot.

That means it would be possible for lawmakers to fashion a comprehensive proposal to place before voters. That couldn't happen until 2014, which means there is time to approach that thoughtfully.

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