SACRAMENTO (AP) — Major issues facing the Legislature, including a water bond and reshaping the state's rainy day fund, can be addressed this year despite the loss of Democrats' supermajority, the state Senate leader said Monday.
Democrats' two-thirds majority in the Senate ended when Sen. Ron Calderon took an indefinite leave of absence this week after being indicted on federal corruption charges. Last week, Sen. Roderick Wright took a leave after he was convicted of voter fraud and perjury.
Their departures drop Democrats' majority to 26 in the 40-seat chamber, one less than they need to raise taxes, pass emergency legislation and put constitutional amendments before voters without Republican support.
"In general, I don't think there will be a large effect. We haven't used the two-thirds that much," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, told reporters outside the Senate chamber.
Democrats won supermajorities in the Assembly and Senate in 2012, and they retain that edge in the Assembly. But Steinberg said some major issues would have required bipartisan support regardless.
For instance, he said Democrats' efforts to substitute a lower-cost water bond for the $11.1 billion plan currently on the November ballot already would have required Republican votes because Democrats are split on the details, including how much funding should go toward creating new reservoirs.
Gov. Jerry Brown and his fellow Democrats also want to substitute a different version of a rainy day reserve fund for the pending constitutional amendment previously negotiated with Republicans.
"It's going to take some cooperation from the minority party, especially if we have less than the two-thirds supermajority. But we're ready to engage in real discussions with them and get it done," Steinberg said to reporters after the Senate floor session.
Peter DeMarco, a spokesman for Senate Republicans, said Republican lawmakers "look forward to working with the pro tem and Democrats so that all views and priorities are on the table."
Several Senate Republicans said Monday that they are still concerned that Calderon and Wright were allowed to take paid leave instead of being suspended or expelled. The two could rescind their voluntary leave "in a heartbeat" if Senate Democrats want to restore their supermajority, Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, said in an interview.
Steinberg, in an interview, reiterated that he will not bring them back to the Capitol for that purpose.
"The fact of the matter is both of the members are not here and they won't be back unless ... something happens that sets aside the criminal allegations," Steinberg said. "Yes, the supermajority is important, but not nearly as important as the Senate itself."
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