Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown has laid down his political gauntlet in the face of the legislative supermajority enjoyed by the Democrats, pledging to veto any new taxes that aren’t approved by the voters.

By Joe Garofoli
May 19, 2013

After Jim Araby’s union of grocery store workers donated millions of dollars and cranked out 7,500 three-hour volunteer shifts last fall to help elect a supermajority of Democrats to the state Legislature and win statewide ballot measures, they, like many California liberals, began to dream big.

A supermajority – one party controlling two-thirds of both chambers – meant Democrats could pass a slew of progressive laws and unilaterally raise revenues without having to cajole a single Republican to join them.

But that hasn’t happened. And now, in light of Gov. Jerry Brown’s austere revision of his state budget proposal last week and two special elections Tuesday that could dent that supermajority, some of the 160,000 members of Araby’s union and other liberals are urging Democrats to use their power “or lose it.”

“We worked hard last year to help get that supermajority,” said Araby, the executive director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council, which is based in Oakland.

“Right now, some of our members are wondering if they’re going to come out for some Democrats next year. Are they going to give up their off time, their Saturdays and Sundays to make calls and knock on doors if they’re not going to see a progressive agenda come out of it? We’ll see,” Araby said.

“The supermajority is something that you have to use it or lose it,” said Rick Jacobs, head of the 750,000-member Courage Campaign, which has been at the liberal vanguard of several grassroots and online campaigns. “It is time to be bold. What is anybody afraid of?”

Political reality sets in

It’s not fear that’s holding them back, say Legislature leaders, it’s a political reality. Despite his dated national reputation as a free-spending liberal, even state Republicans are praising Brown’s frugality in balancing the state’s budget. Brown has turned up his chin at the Democratic supermajority, steadfastly promising to veto any new taxes unless California voters approve them at the ballot box.

And while the Legislature may be crowded with Democrats, they’re not all Bay Area- or Los Angeles-type liberals. Democrats clinging to seats in conservative districts in the Central Valley or the Inland Empire fear they could be vulnerable to a Republican challenge if they voted to raise taxes on oil companies through an oil severance tax or support lowering the threshold to pass a local tax – two items on the progressive wish list.

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