State Politics Now Dominated By Fight For Two-Thirds

We may have reached a moment in California when our politics and government aren't about what the state needs right now, in terms of jobs, the budget, schools or prisons.

Our politics are all about 2013 -- and the question of whether Democrats will control 2/3 of the legislature by then.

Two-thirds matters in California because the state government has so many special fiscal rules, including a sea of supermajorities.

Among the most crucial of these supermajorities are rules requiring a 2/3 vote of the legislature to raise taxes (and in some cases lower taxes if they're part of a package raising taxes), raise fees, or suspend the school funding guarantee.

In effect, these supermajorities mean that the majority party can't shape the state and its budget as it wants -- unless it controls a two-thirds supermajority of the legislature.

It's not clear whether Democrats really can reach 2/3 in the legislature. But Democrats and their backers -- and Republicans and their backers -- clearly think it's possible.

This belief is based on Republicans' political difficulties in California; it's also based on uncertainly -- I would say hype -- about the impact of the new redistricting scheme and new primary rules.

So almost everything everyone in Sacramento is doing right now seems calculated to help (or hurt,  in the case of the GOP) the Democratic push to win 2/3 of the legislature in the 2012 elections.

As a voter watching this arm-wrestling match, you should not take anything said or done right now in Sacramento at face value.

For example, the much touted recent "jobs" push by Democrats  was -- by the admission of even some Democrats -- mostly an attempt to portray Republicans as using their leverage under the 2/3 system to oppose jobs measures -- and thus build the case for electing enough Democrats to get the party to 2/3.

That's good politics.

But a better alternative -- if the overriding concern of legislators was actually jobs -- would be finding policy changes that could boost the employment and the economy (making life easier for homebuyers and homeowners would be one area of focus) and would require a majority vote.

On the Republican side, the party is so panicked about losing its ability to block things with supermajority votes that key officials are making foolish decisions.

Most seriously, the party is foolishly launching a referendum to challenge new district lines for the state senate out of fear that Democrats will gain 2/3 there.

Even in the unlikely event that the GOP can qualify the measure (funds are short) and get voters to approve it (more than, yes, 2/3 of California voters aren't Republicans), a victory in a referendum means judges would draw the lines.

There's no guarantee that those lines wouldn't be worse for Republicans than those drawn by the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

What does the fight over 2/3 mean for you?

In 2013, it may mean a whole lot, particularly if Democrats succeed in winning supermajorities in the legislature.

But for the 16 months between now and then, it means that Sacramento won't be focused on making the lives of Californians better. It will be focused on a struggle for power.

Let us know what you think. Comment below, send us your thoughts via Twitter @PropZero or add your comment to our Facebook page.

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