George Skelton

CAPITOL JOURNAL

By George Skelton Capitol Journal
November 7, 2012, 5:11 p.m.

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown and fellow Democrats have scored a stunning, historic victory in California. But they should have been careful what they wished for.

Brown sold his Proposition 30 tax increase largely on the premise that it would stanch the budget bleeding — that it would end the painful school cuts and, he implied, halt the university tuition hikes.

He’d better hope that’s what happens and that state revenues don’t continue to fall short of spending. Because voters never like to be fooled.

From now on, it will be Brown’s budget repair plan that is in place. No longer will he be able, with a straight face, to blame former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and an intransigent Legislature.

Even more historic, Californians appear to have elected a Democratic two-thirds majority in each legislative house. It would be the first time in 80 years that one party has firmly controlled the entire apparatus of state government. Back then it was the GOP occupying the governor’s office and holding supermajorities in both houses.

In the 1960s and ’70s Democrats briefly controlled one house or the other with a supermajority. But they didn’t hold absolute power. Now it seems they will. And history teaches us what absolute power can do: affix blinders and corrupt.

If this power is bestowed, the culpability at the Capitol will be entirely on Democrats. They’ll be solely accountable, responsible for rerouting California back onto the right path. No finger-pointing at Republicans.

With a two-thirds vote, there’s virtually nothing that can’t be done in Sacramento. You can raise taxes, override a governor’s veto, write constitutional amendments, propose bond issues. Budgets already can be passed on a simple majority vote because of a ballot measure approved two years ago.

But a legislative veer to the left — for yet higher taxation, more union pandering, denser business regulation — would probably propel voters back toward the right and California’s traditional center.

Fortunately for Democrats and California, the same new system of reforms — a “top-two” open primary and independently drawn, competitive legislative districts — that enabled the majority party to make such dramatic gains also may keep it in check. Newly elected legislators who wander off to the left risk being yanked back home by the voters.

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