California Capitol

Capitol Alert
By Jeremy B. White
jwhite@sacbee.com
November 28, 2016 – 5:35 PM

Broadening the path to long-sought deals on affordable housing, transportation infrastructure and climate change, California Democrats have again captured a two-thirds supermajority in both houses of the Legislature.

Enough late votes were counted in Southern California’s 29th Senate District for The Associated Press to project that Democrat Josh Newman defeated Republican Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang, R-Diamond Bar. The outcome gives Senate Democrats 27 seats, the supermajority threshold in the upper house. Assembly Democrats secured their two-thirds margin earlier this month.

Chang initially led balloting for the 29th, which is anchored largely in Orange County, but she slipped behind as officials tallied provisional and late-arriving mail ballots in the days after the Nov. 8 election. The latest update Monday put Newman 2,136 votes ahead.

With the victory, Democrats reclaimed the theoretical ability to pass taxes, amend political spending laws, move constitutional amendments to the ballot or enact quick-implementing legislation without Republican support. The achievement both underscores the total dominance of Sacramento Democrats and tests the ideological divides in a caucus increasingly split between more liberal and business-friendly members.

In other words: Just because you have a two-thirds margin doesn’t mean all of them will vote together.

Having the margin helps leadership “gain the majorities they need for majority-vote bills when there’s disagreements within the caucus, which is inevitable,” said former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who oversaw the last Senate supermajority, but “it’s not a magic wand. You have differences within the caucus. It can be a bit overrated when it comes to passing a lot of two-thirds bills.”

The lessons of four years ago, when Democrats last mustered a supermajority, have tempered expectations.

A two-thirds bill that would have penalized employers who pay little enough that workers qualify for Medi-Cal, widely viewed as a test of the newly forged supermajority, failed on the Assembly floor as centrist Democrats balked. A bill that sought to fund affordable housing with a new fee passed the Senate but later fell victim to interest groups’ infighting. An effort to let voters overturn a ban on affirmative action, which passed the Senate with two-thirds support thanks to a unanimous vote from Democrats, crumbled amid ethnic tensions.

Sustaining cap-and-trade, which relies on auctioning permits for greenhouse gas emissions to industrial polluters, could be a prime test of Democratic priorities this time around.

To read expanded article, click here.o added his organization prefers a bipartisan deal. “You have to wonder if Democrats are willing to vote on a tax increase with newly elected members, if that’s the best first move for them to make.”

Fiscal conservatives have warned for months about emboldened Democrats trying to push through new taxes. Email blasts from the California Republican Party warned that a Democratic supermajority would lead to “MORE TAXES, MORE GOVERNMENT, LESS FREEDOM.”

“If they feel like the temperature is right, they may look for more broad statewide taxes,” said Small Business Action Committee president Joel Fox, who predicted before the election that sweeping Democratic gains “may embolden some pro-tax-and-spend folks.”

To read expanded article, click here.