California's "Tyranny of the Minority"

The short version of California's budget stalemate: Republicans in the legislature won't accept a budget with any tax increases. Democrats won't accept a budget without ...
by | August 21, 2008
 

The short version of California's budget stalemate: Republicans in the legislature won't accept a budget with any tax increases. Democrats won't accept a budget without at least some tax increases.

Democrats have majorities in both houses of the California legislature. In most states, that would mean that Republicans would say their piece, lose the votes, then take their case to the voters to try to get a majority before the next budget fight. Or, if the minority party was crafty, maybe it could persuade some majority members to agree to budget a compromise. Either way, you'd have a resolution.

That's not the way it works in California. The state constitution requires two-thirds majorities to pass the budget. You might think that rule would promote compromise. In some circumstances, it might. But, in practice, it gives both parties veto power. When both sides have drawn lines in the sand, passing a budget becomes nearly impossible.

Now a group of lawmakers is trying to change the two-thirds rule with a 2010 ballot initiative. Not surprisingly, they're Democrats, as the Contra Costa Times reports:

SACRAMENTO -- Assemblyman Sandre Swanson is convinced that the only way to avoid lengthy budget stalemates in the future is to strip the minority party of what he calls its out-sized influence.

The Oakland Democrat is among a handful of East Bay lawmakers who want voters to overturn the constitutional requirement that two-thirds of the Legislature must approve the budget. Now in its 50th day, the budget standoff is threatening to spill into next month as both parties remain far apart on finding a solution to the state's estimated $15.2 billion deficit.

"It just has to change, and citizens will have to lead us on this," said Swanson, a member of the Assembly Budget committee. "California is being held hostage by six members of this Assembly. That's the tyranny of the minority. Six members have disproportionate influence."

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. You can enter an anonymous Display Name or connect to a social profile.

More from Politics