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Budget Expert Unfazed by Supermajority

Fears that the Legislature might spend money faster than a speeding bullet are unfounded, despite the possibility that the Democrats in Sacramento could have a two-thirds supermajority in both houses, according to Chris Hoene, executive director of the California Budget Project.

However, if election results in several key races too close to call go in Democrats’ favor, the new supermajority could have an impact on health care policy, particularly cuts to health care, Hoene said.

“I think from a budgetary perspective, the big implication is that the approach to balancing the budget wouldn’t be a cuts-only approach,” Hoene said. “We might not be talking about just cuts as a way to move forward.”

When you’re talking cuts, you’re likely talking health care, Hoene said, so that is one possible way the supermajority might affect health care policy. He said it’s unlikely the budget discussion would include restoration of previously cut health care dollars.

A few races are still too close to call from Tuesday’s election. In several cases, Democrat candidates are ahead, but by narrow margins.

Even if the supermajority does arrive in both houses, there’s no assurance all Democrats will be of like mind on all issues.

“Even if you do have a two-thirds coalition of Democrats, there is still an issue of holding that coalition together,” he said. “In principle, you have the math — but in practice, you have to hold that vote.”

It is unlikely Democrats would use the supermajority to launch programs and spend money, Hoene said, given the extremely difficult budget crisis the legislators have all experienced.

“I think it’s hard to say that suddenly people think there’s a big pot of money at the end of the rainbow,” Hoene said. “Moderation is still going to win the day. I would say the lessons of recent history tell us to be really careful not to spend temporary revenues or we could find ourselves in the same position later on.”

The Legislative Analyst’s Office is expected to release its budget forecast next week. That will go a long way toward informing what the governor’s Jan. 10 budget will look like, Hoene said.

“It’s all going to depend on the 2013 budget projections coming out next week,” he said. “Prop. 30 funds will help, but we’re certainly not in a situation where funds can be restored.”

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