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What Do Supermajorities in California Statehouse Mean for K-12?

Just when you think all the big news has popped in California, think again. My colleague Lesli Maxwell pointed me to this Capitol Alert item from the Sacramento Bee, in which state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff seems to admit that the Democrats have captured supermajorities in both the State Assembly and Senate, even though not all votes had been counted as of 11 a.m. West Coast time on Wednesday.

Why am I highlighting this? Because in California, a tax increase requires ... you guessed it, a two-thirds majority (a supermajority) vote of the legislature. So, if Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, decides that more tax increases are necessary to further rebuild the California K-12 education budget, he just might have the votes in Sacramento to do it, without resorting to the relatively risky gambit of a ballot initiative, even though Brown's Proposition 30 ultimately passed.

Remember, as Lesli wrote in a story less than a year ago, California schools at the end of 2011 had lost $18 billion in funding over the preceding five years. If they think the legislature might help them out, districts certainly won't shy away from lobbying for increases in coming years. The $4.8 billion in additional funding for schools contained in Proposition 30, remember, was actually built into the fiscal year 2013 budget Brown signed, meaning that had Proposition 30 failed, schools would likely have experienced a devastating mid-year cut.

Of course, having the capacity to perhaps raise taxes through a straightforward legislative process doesn't mean that Brown will automatically use it. This year, California's ballot included two tax-increase measures, Proposition 30 and Proposition 38, a much broader tax increase for schools. As the National Conference of State Legislatures points out, usually when California voters are confronted by two measures to increase taxes on their ballots, they end up rejecting both. But that didn't happen this year, and only Proposition 38 was defeated. Perhaps Brown will feel as though he's done enough on the tax policy front and not push his luck, at least as far as 2013 is concerned.

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