SACRAMENTO/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California Democrats appeared to be within striking distance of gaining a supermajority in both houses of the state legislature on Tuesday, crowning a sweeping election triumph for Governor Jerry Brown and his allies.
A supermajority would give Democrats the two-thirds majority needed to pass legislation that increases taxes, and it would change the political landscape in a state that has long suffered from political division and infighting.
Voters also passed two tax measures, including one put forward by Brown, and defeated a measure that would have curtailed union power in California.
Democratic leaders said a supermajority would give them a mandate to make major changes in the state.
"I think we're going to have the opportunity to really look at constitutional changes that improve governance in California - initiative reform, tax reform," Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, said in an interview early Wednesday.
"This is an outcome that nobody expected," Assembly Speaker John Perez, from Los Angeles, told Reuters. "But now we've got 54 people that I know are going to come together on Day One and work to further stabilize our economy."
With results still being counted, Democrats were winning seven of eight critical districts in the Assembly and three of five hotly contested Senate seats.
If the final results do not change, Democrats would have just reached the two-thirds majority threshold in both houses - 54 Assembly seats and 27 Senate seats.
A supermajority would also mean the legislature could override a veto by the governor.
The last time any party enjoyed a supermajority in both houses was 1933, Steinberg said.
"The combination of a strong majority and the passage of Prop 30 gives us all a chance to start a new and better chapter in California," he said.
Since the 1978 passage of Proposition 13, a landmark measure that capped property taxes, any tax increase legislation requires a two-thirds vote in favor, a threshold that has stymied efforts by Democrats to raise taxes.
The tax measure proposed by Brown, Proposition 30, was a case in point. When Brown was unable to persuade Republican legislators last year to support a plan to increase sales taxes and raise income taxes on those earning over $250,000 a year to avoid education budget cuts, he put the measure to voters.
With 85 percent of precincts reporting, Proposition 30 was winning 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent.
Proposition 32, which would have ended unions' ability to use automatic paycheck deductions for political purposes, was defeated with 56 percent against and 44 percent in favor.
Voters also closed a tax loophole for out-of-state companies by passing Proposition 39 by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin.
Reporting by Mary Slosson and Gerry Shih; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech