SACRAMENTO -- As they welcomed a large class of incoming new legislators Monday, Democratic leaders played down expectations over how they might use their newly won supermajority power, saying they will not seek to raise statewide taxes any time soon.
Thirty-nine first-time legislators -- the largest freshman class since 1966 -- were sworn in to the Assembly and the Senate, where Democrats will hold two-thirds majorities simultaneously for the first time since 1883.
Over the next two years, Democrats will seek changes in Proposition 13 to make local tax increases easier to accomplish, and they promise to look into finding new revenues from certain tax loopholes.
But Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, made it clear that Democrats will go deliberately with the unilateral powers voters handed them -- though he expects many will want quick action.
"There's going to be a lot of noise, a lot of elbows, a lot of pushing and pulling," Steinberg told reporters after swearing-in ceremonies. "But I don't think we should come hurtling out of the gates talking about taxes. Down the line, as we look at the budget, we can always reassess."
Democrats have a 29-11 majority in the Senate and 55-25 in the Assembly, where they added a seat over the weekend when the final tally in a Southern California race switched to the Democrats after initially being counted as Republican.
But newly re-elected Assembly Speaker
The new term limits law stabilizes the Assembly and empowers it to pursue long-term planning, Perez said.
After Perez, who is openly gay, took his oath of office, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, another openly gay legislator, yelled out, "Long live the queen!"
Legislators are entering 2013 with more optimism than they've had for years, thanks to the $6 billion annually in new revenues because voters approved Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's initiative, which raises taxes on the wealthy and hikes the state sales tax by a quarter cent.
Though the state still has a $1.9 billion deficit for the rest of this fiscal year and part of 2013-14, it will have an estimated surplus thereafter. That, the supermajorities and the longer terms in office have infused Democrats with hope of a new era.
The legislators' early focus will be on a special session on health care to lay the groundwork for the state's implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, Perez said. Legislators will also begin work on the budget after Brown proposes one in mid-January.
Their two-thirds majorities could vanish in April, if Assembly Democrats move on to two state Senate seats being vacated by legislators going to Congress in January. Filling the Assembly seats might take until August.
But regaining the supermajority in August also depends on whether Los Angeles Democrat Steve Fox, who was sworn in Monday, holds onto a 145-vote lead that is being challenged by Republican Tom Smith. If Smith wins the recount, Democrats' supermajority in the Assembly would be gone after April and would not return until 2014.
Democrats don't necessarily have to assert their new two-thirds powers immediately, said Steinberg. They won't need to pass many changes until next year to place them on the 2014 ballot.
Legislators will likely tweak Proposition 13 to allow local governments to seek tax hikes with less than the two-thirds vote that is currently required -- a move that would require statewide voter approval. Steinberg also said he wants to explore extensive reforms to California's initiative system, which would also require a vote by Californians. And he said that Democrats will cut the size of a water bond, which is already on the 2014 ballot, to "well below" $10 billion.
Democrats could find new revenues immediately by closing some of the dozens of tax loopholes that many say are not as effective as initially touted. Steinberg said he would not consider that a tax increase.