By Mary Slosson
SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - California Democrats are hoping to leverage new state electoral rules to garner a veto-proof supermajority in the state legislature come Election Day, a possibility that their Republican opponents worry could lead to tax abuses.
Tuesday's general election will test the impact of a new election landscape in California thanks to redrawn political maps and an open primary system in which all candidates for each office competed on a single ballot, with the top two vote-getters going on to the election, regardless of party.
Democrats say they hope to achieve a supermajority in both legislative houses. They already control 25 of the 40 seats in the state senate, and would need to gain only two more seats to pass the two-thirds mark, which analysts say is likely. A similar gain in the state assembly could be much harder.
"We expect to make significant progress towards our goal of capturing a two-thirds majority in California," California Democratic Party spokesman Tenoch Flores told Reuters.
California, the most populous U.S. state, already has Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature and a Democratic governor. But a supermajority would help Democrats on tax matters, because the state requires a two-thirds legislative majority for tax increases.
Allan Hoffenblum, a former Republican political consultant who publishes the California Target Book, which evaluates political races, said Democrats would probably gain veto-proof control of the state senate, but not the assembly.
Hoffenblum noted that a handful of redrawn coastal districts, the 17th and 19th state senate districts among them, now skew more Democratic, and would play a strong role in Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's supermajority goal.
In the lower chamber, Democrats currently control 52 of the 80 seats. While they would only need to gain two seats to pass the two-thirds mark, Hoffenblum said they actually face the prospect of losing an assembly seat or two.
"Most people have a visceral reaction to one party controlling everything. A supermajority would not be a good thing," state Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff told Reuters.
Huff and his Republican counterparts fear Democrats could also use a supermajority to pass controversial tax and budget measures. A bigger majority would also make it easier to ignore opposition by Republicans or more conservative Democrats.
A tax measure on Tuesday's ballot is a case in point: when Brown was unable to persuade Republican legislators to support a plan to increase sales tax and raise income tax on those earning over $250,000 to avoid education budget cuts, he put the measure to voters.
Huff said that giving Democrats the unchecked ability to raise taxes by circumventing Republican opposition - or even a vote of the people - would create an uncompetitive business climate that would send investment and capital elsewhere.
But Democratic strategists say Republican opposition to tax increases of any kind has led to partisan gridlock and exacerbated the state's budget woes. The presence of moderate Democrats who oppose tax hikes should also temper the budget and tax effects of a potential supermajority.
Political analyst Hoffenblum, for his part, doesn't think either legislative body would be interested in tax increases, especially if voters turn down the governor's ballot measure.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)