There’s so much opportunity for sweet, sweet schadenfreude coming out of yesterday’s electoral results, from the Big News about Romney losing to local things like Sonny Bono’s widow getting edged out by a progressive Latino physician, thus flipping the Coachella Valley House seat to a non-Republican for the first time since the Reagan Administration. But this one’s my favorite:
California Democrats appear to have picked up a supermajority in both houses of the state Legislature Tuesday night, a surprise outcome that gives the party the ability to unilaterally raise taxes and leaves Republicans essentially irrelevant in Sacramento.
I first moved to California in 1982, just four years into the Great Reign of Stupidity launched when the state’s voters passed Proposition 13 in 1978. Prop 13 was (and is) politically popular due to its strictly limiting property tax increases on residential properties. Since 1978 any criticism of the measure is taken as demanding old people be taxed out of their homes, and thus it’s become a third rail in California politics.
But the measure also did two other things:
- It likewise capped property taxes on corporate properties;
- It enacted a two-thirds supermajority requirement for any tax increase passed in the state legislature.
Since then, especially as the electorate in California gets younger and browner and more liberal, the whole purpose of the California Republican Party has been to obstruct the state government’s authority to raise and spend money doing frivolous socialist market-meddling things like paving roads, or fixing broken windows in schools, or buying textbooks that were published sometime after the Apollo Program ended. And a fair number of otherwise non-braindead Californians went along for the ride, because who likes taxes?
It was a pretty foolproof business plan on the Republicans’ part:
- Slash government income with Proposition 13.
- Cut funding to public education, creating two generations of mathematically illiterate Californians
- Advocate a series of mathematically unsound economic policies to those Californians
There have been other horrible effects of Prop 13 besides the obvious cuts in education infrastructure and social services kind. For instance, the cap on property tax assessments provided a serious incentive for municipalities and counties to approve sprawling development so that they could generate revenue by taxing the new properties. Local governments have had little incentive to promote things like infill development, which would add new properties to the tax rolls by destroying existing properties.
And if you’ve paid attention to the Left Coast at all in the last few months, you know the end result of all this: a state teetering on the edge of an insolvency that would make New York City’s crisis in the 1970s look like running out of lunch money — all due to the Republican Party’s stranglehold on the legislative process.
Yesterday the voters of California approved not one but two tax increases — one more a loophole closing on out-of-state businesses — and, it seems, whittled the Republican presence in the Assembly and Senate down just below 1/3. There are still Republicans in Sacramento, and they still serve important functions. For instance, in the case of Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, America’s Stupidest Legislator, he often provides much-needed comic relief.
But now it seems that they may not have much to say about actual adult pursuits like paying for services and raising revenue, because the Dems may well have that supermajority. The Democrats are not in any way immune from the temptation to grandstand or engage in chicanery, but I still allow myself the hopeful sense that maybe, for the first time since I landed here, the grownups will be in charge for a while.