With supermajorities in both legislative chambers, Democrats must walk a finer line than ever, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner said Wednesday.
My coffee meeting with Skinner, D-Berkeley, yielded a wide-ranging conversation about her party’s considerable new power and the responsibilities that go with it, as well as her own legislative priorities. The former Berkeley councilwoman has just won re-election to her third and final Assembly term, and she sees a productive but sensitive session ahead.
“We’ve been given this privilege by the voters and we want to be respectful of the privilege we’ve been handed,” she said Wednesday.
The caucus must choose its battles, she said, but not choose them so carefully that none ever get fought.
She’s in a position to help choose those battles because, as the Assembly Rules Committee’s chair, Skinner is among the Legislature’s top leaders. Rules is responsible for assigning bills to committees, setting salaries for legislative staff, waiving rules and overseeing the Assembly’s business; it’s basically an executive committee for the chamber, and its seats are coveted.
But Skinner on Wednesday said the supermajorities were achieved by votes in individual districts, not a statewide vote, and so lawmakers must move cautiously to ensure they don’t salt the field.
For example, she said, voters’ approval of Proposition 30 – Gov. Jerry Brown’s measure temporarily increasing sales taxes and income taxes for the state’s richest residents to fund K-12 and higher education – was “great,” but it would take a lot more revenue to return the state’s schools, colleges and universities to their heyday.
“There’s probably appetite for some more revenue,” she said, but it has to be something that’s palatable to voters.
For example, state Sen. Ted Lieu’s proposal to triple the Vehicle License Fee – which was slashed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, blowing a huge hole in the state budget – was withdrawn almost as soon as it was advanced last month due to public backlash. And voters in November 2010 handily rejected Proposition 21, which would’ve boosted the VLF to bankroll state parks. Voters just don’t like the VLF, Skinner said.
“We have to look at the range of … tax expenditures, what I call tax loopholes or tax giveaways, that were part of various budget deals in order to get a Republican vote” in past years, she said.
One such loophole was the single-sales factor, just repealed last month by Proposition 39; that’ll bring in about $1 billion a year, half of which for the first five years is earmarked for projects increasing energy efficiency and creating green jobs. Skinner this month introduced the Assembly version of a bill to implement that.
“But there’s others like that,” she said, citing the “net operating loss carryback” deduction that was suspended for 2010 and 2011 but will apply to 2012’s corporate taxes.
This and other loopholes, if closed, “could be worth from $2.5 billion to $4 billion, which is significant,” she said.
And of course there’s the possibility of “split-roll” reform of Proposition 13 so that residential properties remain protected but commercial properties are re-assessed more often, she said. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, already has announced a bill to tighten state laws enacted under Prop. 13 so that it’s harder for businesses to avoid re-assessment and higher taxes when property changes hands – a half-step toward split-roll that wouldn’t require voters’ approval of a ballot measure.
Lots more, after the jump…