Yet, they also could reach too far if they can't restrain the impulses of their most liberal members, which could lead to actions that will turn off middle-of-the-road voters. One of the key political dramas of the coming year will be how legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown walk that line.
"We all recognize that we have to use this new power wisely, and we can't overplay it," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said in an interview Thursday. "On the other hand ... we also don't want to underutilize the chance we have to continue to help California grow and thrive."
Many Democrats are anticipating what the party can do now that they no longer need Republican votes.
Steinberg suggested changing the state's tax structure, its initiative process and restoring money to social services. He also said Democrats could use their two-thirds majorities to place a measure on the ballot seeking to overturn Proposition 8, if the U.S. Supreme Court eventually upholds California's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
As an example of potential over-reaching, Steinberg responded to comments this week by one of his Democratic colleagues, state Sen. Ted Lieu, who said he would support an effort to triple the state's vehicle license fee. Steinberg said that would be going too far.
Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said he does not trust Democrats to keep themselves in check.
"I think some of these folks are genetically incapable of fiscal prudence. The spending will outgrow whatever surpluses we have," said Nielsen, who has been the Assembly Republicans' point person on the budget.
The legislative supermajority will let Democrats unilaterally raise taxes, if they choose, for the first time since California voters passed Proposition 13 in 1978. The landmark initiative increased the legislative vote threshold to pass tax increases to two-thirds.