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April 12, 2013
Editorial: Can Democrats keep appetites in check?

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(April 12 -- By the Editorial Board)

The 3,000 Democrats converging for their annual convention at the Sacramento Convention Center today will be a self-satisfied bunch, for good reason. They hold supermajorities in the Legislature, every statewide office, and 38 of 53 congressional seats.

But one-party rule is not a healthy way for the Capitol to operate. Democrats and their patrons risk overreaching. Already, Democratic legislators have introduced bills that are so slanted to organized labor and other interests that they must have been written by lobbyists.

Assembly Democrats and a Republican on the Governmental Organization Committee approved a bill that would grant state workers a 12th holiday. The fourth Friday of every September would commemorate American Indians, at an annual cost of $80 million. That bill ought to die, unless the Legislature can repeal some other holiday.

Six months after voters approved $6 billion in annual tax increases, Democrats are proposing numerous fee increases and six constitutional amendments to lower the threshold for raising local taxes to 55 percent, rather than the current two-thirds.

Some of those measures might make sense. But Democrats risk squandering their clout on one-off measures. They ought to focus on big things, knowing their good fortunes won't last forever.

Democrats should tackle the tax code, ridding it of tax gimmicks and giveaways, and lowering rates and broadening the income, sales and corporate tax bases.

They also have an opportunity to refine the initiative process, perhaps including sunsets for ballot measures and requirements that measures which cost money include some funding mechanism.

The Legislature is led by termed-out Democrats who should want to cement their legacies. Speaker John A. Pérez is pushing for a major expansion of Medi-Cal, a topic worthy of a leader's attention. But inexplicably, he's also carrying bills that are sops to his organized labor friends, hardly the stuff of legacy.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is working on an overhaul of mental health care funding, initiatives, California environmental law, and a bill intended to get businesses to invest in public schools that provide job training for kids on the verge of dropping out, any one of which is a worthwhile undertaking.

The weekend chatter will focus on which Democrat will run for which statewide office in 2014. Republican leaders, by contrast, wonder whether they can find serious candidates willing to run for some down-ballot statewide offices.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton will be organizing campaigns to defend freshmen who won congressional seats in November, and target some of the remaining 15 California congressional Republicans.

Democrats hold advantages over Republicans in every respect that counts. There are 7.9 million registered Democrats statewide, compared with 5.2 million Republicans. The California Democratic Party has $12.1 million in the bank, to the Republicans' $305,000. Democrats need to aim high, without getting intoxicated by their own success.

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