Democrats started the 2013-2014 legislative session today with a supermajority in both houses, but the respective leaders took different approaches to marking the occasion.
In the Senate, members were serenaded by a children's choir singing "What a Wonderful World." Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg cheered when a letter certifying the unofficial election results was read.
The Sacramento Democrat addressed the supermajority power, which could allow Democrats to raise taxes or put measures on the ballot without GOP votes, throughout his address on the floor. He called the results of the election "a validation that the Legislature faced incredible challenges with strength, with decisiveness and we never flinched from the hardest of hard decisions," chronicling the deep cuts that helped the state climb back toward the black from a $42 billion budget deficit.
Steinberg said that while "the voters do not want us to burst out the gate to raise more taxes," he hopes to find ways of using of the supermajority in the Senate, including the possibility of putting an overhaul of the initiative process and changes to other parts of the constitution on the ballot in 2014. He emphasized a desire to restore in years to come funding for some state services that took deep hits as lawmakers sought to balance the budget.
"We get the overreach warning. We have heard it and we acknowledge it," Steinberg said of critics' warnings that Democrats will go too far with their new authority. "But frankly I think you can focus too much on overreach because there is an equally compelling danger, it is the danger of being so cautious, so worried about creating controversy that we fail to take advantage of unprecedented opportunities."
Rather than revel publicly in Democrats' new super-majority in the Legislature, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez urged bipartisanship and collaboration Monday in accepting a second term as leader of the house. Unlike Steinberg, Perez never mentioned that Democrats have seized a supermajority of both houses this year.
"I am very proud that some of the most significant policies we put forward were the result of thoughtful cooperation between both parties and both houses of the Legislature," Pérez said of Assembly actions since 2008.
The Los Angeles Democrat ticked off a laundry list of issues that lawmakers "together" have tackled since 2008, including massive budget deficits, job creation, mortgage crises and changes to California's pension system and workers compensation insurance.
Many major issues remain for the new legislative session, including implementing health-care reform and ensuring college affordability and access, Pérez said.
"Even though we may not always agree on the best policy prescriptions for our state, I believe very strongly that our deliberative process is best served with your active participation," he told Republicans.
"For those Republican members who are new to the Assembly, I want to state clearly that your voice is welcome, your contributions are desired, and your active service is needed ... My goal for this year is to have a thoughtful, deliberative process where every voice is heard and valued.:
Pérez ended his speech by imploring lawmakers to buckle up.
"We have much work to do," he said. "So let's get to work."