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California Legislature

Don't expect Legislature's self-styled moderate Democrats to embrace new taxes, even for transportation

 (Ken James / Bloomberg News)
(Ken James / Bloomberg News)

Democrats who take the oath of office next week in the California Legislature will find their ranks have swelled, with the party now holding a supermajority of seats in both houses.

But there are likely to be notable intraparty disagreements on economic issues, none more important than taxes.

"I think we need to be very careful about taxes," said Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), co-chairman of a business-aligned bloc of Democrats that calls itself the "moderate caucus."

One tax proposal sure to face lawmakers in the coming weeks is a proposed increase in the state gas tax to help fund billions of dollars in transportation projects. A broad package of proposals designed to improve roads and highways failed to move forward in the previous session, in large part because the gas tax increase required a supermajority vote in both houses -- and Republicans balked at the idea.

Which gets back to the skepticism of some of the business-aligned Democrats to vote for a new tax.

"I think we need to be very careful," said Cooper of a tax hike.

The looming transportation debate, say some, offers insight into the limits of Democratic dominance even in an era where the party's political power seems stronger than ever.

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