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Torlakson seeks to end two-thirds budget vote

State Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, has introduced legislation that would allow lawmakers to pass a budget and raise taxes with a majority rather than two-thirds vote.

Senate Constitutional Amendment 22 will let the Legislature pass a budget by a majority vote and send the spending plan to the Governor. It will bring California in line with 47 other states that pass budgets by a majority vote, Torlakson said.

The two-thirds protection is revered by conservatives and Republicans, whose only true power in the Legislature rests with their ability to block a budgets and new tax measures and thereby force Democrats to meet at least some of their demands in return for a deal.

But both sides have dug in their heels on how to close next year’s remaining $8 billion budget gap and many expect to see a bitter, drawn out fight that may lead to competing ballot-box budgeting measures in November. Democrats want a combination of cuts and new taxes while Republicans oppose tax hikes. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed mostly cuts, including reductions in education.

Here’s what Torlakson’s press release said:

California is one of only three states that require a two-thirds vote to pass a budget. This “supermajority” requirement has repeatedly led to budget gridlock that delays funding to schools, colleges, health care for the elderly and disabled, and other vital services, said Torlakson, D-Antioch.

“When a budget plan is clearly crafted and approved by one party or the other, then that party can get the praise or the reprimand at the ballot box,” Torlakson said. “The current system leads to finger pointing and excuses for concessions made to one party or the other.”

SCA 22 also allows the Legislature to raise revenues with a majority vote.

California endured 52 days without a state budget in 2007, when Senate Republicans refused to provide enough votes to pass the spending plan. Only two other states – Arkansas and Rhode Island – require a two-thirds vote to pass state budgets. Congress and most cities and counties have a majority vote requirement.

Principal co-authors for SCA 22 are Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-Santa Clara and Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley; co-authors are Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica and Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Martinez.

The two-thirds requirement in California started in 1933, when the vote threshold was tied to annual budget growth exceeding 5 percent. A 1962 Constitutional Amendment applied the two-thirds vote to all state budgets.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen