IF Prop 30 Passes, Brown Doctrine on Budgeting Could Become Widespread

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

If Proposition 30 passes, the method used to secure voters’ approval could become a new formula for state and local governments to pass tax increases. We’ll call it the Brown Doctrine after our governor who conceived it.

Here’s how the Brown Doctrine works.

First write a budget that is balanced only if the voters pass a tax measure placed on the ballot. Certainly, this first step is not extraordinary and has been practiced before.

Then target the tax increase revenues for a specific purpose. Be sure to aim at programs that voters would think should be funded first – education or public safety – even if revenue can be moved around within the budget to satisfy other budget needs. Again, not an original concept from politicians in tax and budget financing.

Step three: If the voters turn down the tax increase, put in the budget a spending cut triggered when the ballot measure fails. The budget cuts must target the popular programs for which you are raising the taxes.

Now, we have something not often seen but could catch on if it is successful.

Whether the governor will actually cut education to the amount that is written into the budget bill we may never know if the measure passes. If the tax proposition fails, the legislature could always rewrite the budget bill. Trigger cuts included in last year’s budget were not carried out to their full extent.

But if the strategy works, expect state and local governments to mimic the Brown Doctrine in future budget fights.

We have experienced in the past this phenomenon of copying a tax increase device that worked. It came in the form of something called a “Taxpayer Oversight Committee.”

School districts desperate to pass bonds created an independent “Taxpayer Oversight Committee” in which local citizens would oversee the spending of tax dollars to assure that the elected officials, once they had the money in hand, would not spend it foolishly.

I was involved with one such situation with the Los Angeles Unified School District. Once the oversight committee was in place, the school district tried to ignore it until a judge intervened and said that the role of the oversight committee wasn’t merely to count nails in school buildings once the new facilities were built.

However, the addition of the “Taxpayer Oversight Committee” in the bond measure helped the school district pass it’s tax increase and soon Taxpayer Oversight Committees were popping up all over to convince voters to agree to local tax increases.

The Brown Doctrine is a more drastic approach to convincing voters to go along with tax increases. Pass the taxes or witness specific cuts to programs you like and support.

If Prop 30 passes, expect the Brown Doctrine on Budgeting to spread.

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