Democrats are celebrating what appears to be their historic achievement of a super-majority in both houses of the state legislature.
Unfortunately for them, they achieved this in the very same election in which they fought successfully for Prop 30.
That ballot initiative is likely to provide a serious shackle for the new Democratic majority – and a maddening one, since Prop 30 is a shackle of the Democrats’ own making.
With a two-thirds super-majority, Democrats can raise taxes without needing Republican support.
But Prop 30, which raised sales and income taxes, introduces serious complications. The Democrats might well want to make permanent changes, including hikes to the tax system.
But that could create political problems, since Prop 30, just approved with their support, only raises taxes temporarily. And, as a legal matter, since Prop 30’s temporary taxes were put in place by initiative, it’s possible that some tax increase options would require another ballot measure to change them.
The measure will also tie Democrats' hands with regard to school funding.
California badly lags virtually all other states in school funding. Democrats, who have championed schools and demanded funding increases, might be willing to invest enough to at least bring the state back to the national average.
But Prop 30’s victory may make that more difficult politically.
Voters were just told that the initiative would restore money for schools. Even if those claims prove true, the amount of money for schools is small – and wouldn’t get California close to the national average. Democrats will want to do more, but voters are likely to question why Prop 30 wasn’t enough.
Budgeting in general will be less flexible under Prop 30.
That's because the measure didn’t just raise taxes. It also amended the constitution to lock in certain revenue streams for local governments.
This constitutional change should make it harder to balance the budget in the long term—reducing the discretion of the ascendant Democrats.
It also locks the Democratic super-majority into Gov. Brown’s very limited “realignment” plan for transferring some authority, and some dollars, for certain programs from the state government to the local level.
Changing that realignment plan, and its funding, can’t be done by the legislative supermajority because, after Prop 30, such changes require an amendment to the constitution.
It will be interesting to see how long it takes the Democrats to recognize the cage that Prop 30 keeps them in – and to regret their support for Prop 30 in the first place.