Although it is now passed, for more than two months California State Senate Republicans blocked the passage of a new state budget, and not for the first time, either. California, like a few other states requires a 2/3rds vote to approve budgets. The supermajority requirement is similar to the supermajority approval requirements I have advocated before for government appointments. I want to give my assessment of why California has this perennial problem, and what it means for the plan I have advocated.

Districts in California are extremely gerrymandered, which means primaries all but determine the outcomes of district elections. This gives the Republican and Democratic parties enormous power direct the behavior of the legislators in their party. Because this is the case, instead of thinking of individual Senators as the decision making units in the budget scenario, it is more useful to think of the two parties as the decision makers. The 2/3rds vote requirement means that both parties are essential to any winning budget. Both parties have a big incentive to invest time in strategic bargaining because they do not compete with other parties to have their interests represented in the winning coalition. This is exactly what is observed in the California case.

What does this mean for my super-majority appointment confirmation plan? It means that in systems where more than one party is essential or near essential, excessive resources (mainly legislative time) will be spent on bargaining. So my plan would not work in a two party system with strong parties, like California. My plan might work better in a proportionally representative system if none of the parties are essential, because there would be multiple parties competing to have their interests represented in the winning coalition.

Unfortunately, most proportionally representative bodies have a few large parties and many smaller ones. A fairly typical seat distribution, the 2004 House of Representatives of the Philippines, is shown on the chart (source: Wikipedia). As you can see, Lakas controls +30% of the vote. With this distribution, if the approval requirement is set at 75%, excessive bargaining between the Lakas Democrats and the President (who makes appointments and is therefore also essential) should be expected because both are essential members of the winning coalition.

This might not be quite as damning as it first appears. I would expect essential parties to be more conciliatory when faced with competitive and proportional elections than when their voting power is fixed because voters seem to dislike obstructionist parties, so excessive bargaining should cause parties to lose votes. (Now there’s an interesting question: when do essential parties behave like non-essential parties?)

Nonetheless, excessive strategic bargaining would probably be a significant problem for super-majority appointment confirmations.