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Restoring Actual Majority Rule to Sacramento

by Indy, published

Now that California's embarrassing budget spectacle is thankfully over, it is reassuring that many of the Golden State's elected officials and opinion leaders seem to be on the same page about one thing -- doing away with the state Constitution-required two-thirds majority vote to approve budgets containing tax increases.

For more than 100 days -- California, the 8th economic power in the world -- was held hostage by a small handful of Republicans who vowed not to vote for any budget plan that contained tax increases. They took this position knowing that in order to close the gaping $42 billion deficit they eventually would be put in the proverbial cat bird seat to provide the constitutionally-required two-thirds majority to pass any budget package.

Unfortunately, most of these ideologues held their destructive ground. Fortunately, however, after some last-minute deal-making, three GOPers from the Senate and three from the Assembly crossed party lines and voted for the package, ending the standoff.

But now that the deal is done, it is good to know that getting rid of this onerous state constitutional amendment, created in 1933 and reaffirmed by Prop. 13 in 1978, is high on many agendas.

"In Sacramento, it's not majority rule, but minority rule. We've tied ourselves in knots with the two-thirds rule, so it's time to go back and move to a simple majority rule for everything," Lt. Gov. John Garamendi said this week as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Mind you, this is not about partisan posturing. No, getting rid of this requirement simply means a return to common sense that essentially would be good for any party that's in power -- Republicans and Democrats alike. Moreover, it's about restoring fairness to the budget process. How is it acceptable to anyone to have the Legislature's voting minority hold extraordinary power and authority over the voting majority? Short answer: It's not.

Restoring the voting requirement to a rational and simple majority (50 percent, plus 1) or even 55 percent assures the public that state lawmakers won't be able to approve something as important as a state budget or a tax increase on a whim.

In the coming weeks you may well be stopped at the grocery store or mall and asked to sign a petition to qualify a ballot proposition that puts the question of doing away with the two-thirds requirement before all Californians. It deserves a minute or two of your serious consideration.

While many would think such a ballot measure would cruise to an easy victory, history says otherwise. In 2004, Prop. 56, also known as the Budget Accountability Act, received only 34.3 percent of the vote suffering from well-funded conservative opposition and an overall low voter turn-out. This time around, such an initiative, which will likely qualify for the ballot later this year or early next, deserves to be passed. After all, it would be downright anti-democratic (and, mind you, that's the small 'd' kind) to do otherwise.

Jeff Mitchell is a Bay Area-based journalist and longtime political observer.

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