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Majority Rule

Minority Rule
Most people think of the United States as a democracy where the will of the people becomes law and, ignoring the minor exception of the Electoral College and the major exception of the Senate, that is for the most part the case. Here in California, however, a convoluted and defective constitution has given us the opposite: minority rule. 33%+1 of the electorate and its elected representatives have the power to overrule the rest of the state, an injustice that is at the root of many of our states problems today.

Background
California is unique from all other states in that it requires a two-thirds supermajority of the legislature to both approve a budget and to raise taxes. The budget requirement became law in 1933 when voters approved the Riley-Stewart amendment which required the supermajority for passing a budget when the budget increased by more than 5%, which has been the case every year since. In 1962, a second measure was passed to remove the 5% provision. In 1978, Prop. 13 was passed, ostensibly to protect seniors from rising property taxes. While the measure does protect seniors (along with corporations, of course), it also instituted a two-thirds requirement for   levying taxes

Today
The California Legislature today is a headless body, as Republicans maintain just enough seats in both the Assembly and Senate to prevent the passage of any law raising taxes or a budget that would increase government revenue. California is ruled by a minority.

Some liberals say that Californians wouldn’t vote for anything that would raise their taxes. While it’s fair to say that we have our share of the American sentiments that sparked the Revolution, the idea that Californians wouldn’t support taxes that would be raised to support our collective goals is ridiculous. As this polling memo from David Binder shows (via David Dayen), the failure of Prop 1A in May, which was taken by the media to be a rejection of any tax increases and a mandate to balance the budget solely through cuts, was actually a rejection of senseless Sacramento politics. 75% of those surveyed supported taxes on alcoholic beverages, 74% support taxing tobacco and 73% supported imposing an oil severance tax. Conversely, over 70% of voters oppose cutting public school and university funding and over 60% oppose cutting health care and homecare services. This is what you would expect from a state with a significant Democratic majority.

The problem, then, is not that taxes are anathema to Californians but that liberal politicians have failed to lay out the real choices that confront our state today. Instead of viewing the electorate as responsive to change and arguments, establishment Democrats approach the opinions of Californian voters as set in stone. Other polls that show a desire for tax cuts and a desire for public are not the result of electoral schizophrenia but of a populace that won’t part with their money unless given good reason.

We have good reasons: creating and maintaining a modern water and transportation infrastructure that will allow businesses to flourish; improving primary and secondary education to support our children and maintaining our world-class universities to produce the most sought-after graduates; keeping up our national parks, which serve both to attract out-of-state tourists and as recreational settings for us. These are things that Californians will support.  Effective messaging that connects the closure of state parks, the rise of UC fees and the increase in classroom sizes to the legislative obstacles that have handcuffed progressive legislators is necessary to make voters aware of these tradeoffs. In another recent post at Calitics, Robert Cruickshank puts it like this: “We win the majority vote by enfolding it within a broader narrative and a broader campaign that uses progressive populism to beat the stuffing out of the large corporations and their allies in the Republican Party, in the service of clear goals that people actively and strongly desire.”

It will take leadership more courageous and determined than those currently ensconced in Sacramento but a return to majority rule is an absolute necessity if California is to remain the coast of dreams. I believe Californians hold that dream dear enough to make it so.

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