A New Legislature Begins Work

California’s 120 legislators were sworn in December 3 for the two-year session that runs through 2014. Both houses have “super-majorities” of Democrats meaning there are enough Democratic votes to pass taxes or place constitutional amendments on the ballot without the need to compromise with Republicans to win the necessary votes.

While not a stampede, several Democrats are introducing constitutional amendments that lower the approval threshold for local taxes and bonds.

One drops the approval level for local tax increases and bond measures for l improvements to libraries from 66 percent to 55 percent.

“While demand for library services is growing, many libraries are struggling to meet the needs of their users in light of ongoing state and local budget cuts,” said Sen. Lois Wolk of Davis, in a press release touting her measure.

“We’ve seen major reductions in hours and even closings.  Lowering the voter threshold to 55 percent will give more local communities the ability to keep libraries open and serving their needs.”

Similarly, San Francisco’s Sen. Mark Leno wants to lower the approval of local parcel taxes for schools from two-thirds to 55 percent – the current approval level for local school bond measures.

While it takes a two-thirds vote to place constitutional amendments on the ballot, voters need only approve the changes on a majority vote.

Democrats are exercising some restraint. A move by one senator to return vehicle license fees – branded the “car tax” by some – to the level they were before being reduced by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

That reduction costs the state some $6 billion in lost revenue annually. (License fees are also deductible on federal taxes.) Fearing a spate of media coverage proving their super majorities will inexorably lead to higher taxes, the senator was asked to shelve his proposal – at least temporarily.

Gov. Jerry Brown must meet a lot of new lawmakers. There are 27 freshman Democrats in the Assembly and 12 new Republicans.

(Editor’s Note: The California Chamber of Commerce might be of help to the Democratic governor. Here’s their collection of photographs of the state’s constitutional officers and lawmakers.There’s several faces on the list Brown should already recognize.)


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