It's official: Democrats have supermajorities in both the California state Assembly and Senate, meaning they can pass state tax increases without a single Republican vote. Voters got a head start on tax increases when they passed Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30, which raises the statewide sales tax as well as income taxes on upper incomes.
Some Democratic leaders are wisely trying to downplay some of their glee and promising newfound fiscal restraint rarely seen around Sacramento. "We have to make sure over the next few years that we pay our bills, we invest in the right programs, but we don't go on any spending binges," Gov. Jerry Brown said after the Nov. 6 election.
It's the first time since 1933 that a single party has controlled two-thirds of both the Senate and Assembly and the first time since 1883 the Democrats have had such majorities. "I promise that we will exercise this new power with strength, but also with humility and reason," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said. "I certainly don't intend to suggest to my colleagues that the first thing we do with our new power is to go out and seek to raise more taxes."
If Democrats don't tackle the real causes of the budget deficit—state spending—lawmakers may find something most would never envision: California voters calling for Wisconsin-like budget and pension reforms.
An October Reason-Rupe poll saw that Prop. 30 was leading and asked likely voters across the state: "Suppose these tax increases in Prop. 30 are approved but do not end up eliminating California's budget deficit, what would you like the legislature to do next?"
Nearly three out of four, 74 percent, said they'd want the state to cut spending to balance the budget. Just 15 percent said raise additional taxes to eliminate the deficit and 4 percent said borrow more money.
Sure they want spending cuts, but how similar are California's voters to Wisconsin's? While Wisconsin is not as blue as California, the Democratic Party's presidential candidate has won Wisconsin in every election since 1988, and Wisconsin voters just elected Tammy Baldwin, who will be the first openly gay U.S. senator.
Earlier this year, just before Republican Gov. Scott Walker's recall election, which was prompted by organized labor's fierce reaction to cuts to government workers, the Reason-Rupe poll asked Wisconsin voters: "For new government employees who have not been promised pension benefits, would you favor or oppose shifting them from guaranteed pensions to 401(k)-style accounts?"
In Wisconsin, 69 percent of voters said they'd like to shift new government workers to 401(k)s. A few weeks ago, Reason-Rupe asked the very same question of California voters and got the very same result: 69 percent said shift government workers to 401(k)s. So before California's Democrats hatch any grand tax-and-spend plans, they should delve deeper into public opinion than just Proposition 30's success.
California's government spending increased 42 percent per capita, adjusted for inflation, from 2000 to 2010 according to the Tax Foundation. And yet, 52 percent of Californians say the growth in spending actually decreased the quality of life in the state, and 28 percent feel it made no impact. Just 14 percent of voters said California's government spending during that span improved the quality of life. Since government spending didn't improve the quality of life, 56 percent say they'd support taking per capita state spending back to what it was in 2000.
The Reason-Rupe's poll's sample was made up of 44 percent Democrats, 26 percent Republicans, and 24 percent independents. President Obama and Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein received overwhelming support, which goes to show large numbers of Democrats are part of this public coalition that is ready for real reforms, including spending cuts and pension reforms.
If Gov. Brown and his new supermajority ignore this undercurrent and instead opt for tax and spending increases, they'll be seriously misreading the public's mood and wishes.
This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register.