A few quick notes as the budget just passed and undoubtedly will have been signed by Governor Schwarzenegger by the time you read this.
There will be a backlash against the taxes … but not as much as would had occurred if the 12-cent a gallon gas tax was left in the package. This tax would hit people hard. It is good that it is gone.
However, raising the income tax just plays into the problem the state has suffered all along – a tax system heavily reliant on high-end income taxpayers. The tax system is subject to great volatility and raising the income tax only exacerbates the problem.
There were many gains in this package for Republicans, but it will take time for the message to get out to the rank and file. Among the pluses is a spending limit and rainy day fund that should keep year to year spending increases in check. Also, the idea that local school districts will have greater control over money sent from the state was an important victory. A tax credit for small businesses creating jobs is another plus in the package. The question is, who will deliver the message if the party apparatus is focused on the tax increases?
The concessions wrung from the majority by Senator Abel Maldonado will meet different reactions from the voters. It’s hard to imagine anyone opposing the idea that legislators’ pay should be frozen when the budget is in deficit.
There will be massive opposition from both political parties to the idea of open primaries. Still, the open primary may have a chance considering the voters backed a similar plan in 1996 that was thrown out by the courts. This new measure has been written to account for the courts’ concerns. While the parties will fund a campaign against the open primary, will there be money in support of the measure? Will the business community step up knowing that their support will not sit well with elected Democrats and Republicans?
So we have what everyone agrees is an ugly budget. But many of the issues that revolved around this budget debate have not been solved. In a May special election and the 2010 primary, it will be the voters turn to have a say on more than a half-dozen issues which will set the direction of the state. And, the question of the tax structure will face further scrutiny when the tax commission now doing its work reports to the governor and legislature in April.
Ironically, just yesterday the attorney general’s office released the title and summary on two initiatives. One measure calls for reducing the two-thirds vote to pass the budget; the other to reduce the two-thirds vote to pass both the budget and taxes. The proponents may feel in light of the difficult battle to get this budget done, voters will be prepared to sign the initiative petitions. However, once the voters feel the bite of the tax increases, they are unlikely to vote for a measure that will make it easier to raise taxes.
The budget is done, but this is not the end of the debates, just the beginning.