Governor Brown has submitted a budget that he claims includes drastic spending cuts. And he has dropped the other sandal by announcing he will also seek massive tax hikes, a package of increases that are essentially the same as those overwhelmingly rejected by voters in May of 2009.
While the expert analysis of the budget plan continues, it has already become obvious that a number of items described as “cuts,” do not represent a decrease in spending, just tricky bookkeeping. For example, Brown shows a billion dollar pay down on the deficit by raiding the voter approved Proposition 10 tobacco tax that goes to support children’s services.
However, one does not need a green eyeshade to see that two areas of state spending that are being held sacrosanct are K-12 funding and prisons. In fact, if Brown’s plan is approved, the prison budget will be expanded from $8.9 billion to 9.1 billion, even though California already spends over twice as much per prisoner than does Texas, and much more than the national average.
Perhaps Brown has insulated these programs against reductions because they in fact reflect his policy priorities. But a telling statement he made when talking to reporters reveals a far more political motivation. When he was asked who would help him in a campaign for the tax hikes, Brown immediately said “CTA.” After a pause, he followed that up by mentioning other labor groups and then, almost as an afterthought, he mentioned the business community.
It is no accident that he listed the powerful teachers union first. The California Teachers Association (CTA) spent more than two million dollars to support passage of taxes in the 2009 election and has the potential to spend millions more in support of ballot measures it likes. And the politically active prison guards union has the potential to spend many millions in support of higher taxes to protect pay and benefits for its members.
So while the governor has promised he will not try to impose new taxes without voter approval, he is lining up government employee union backers who can spend tens of millions of dollars without batting an eye to overwhelm regular folks who are already having trouble meeting mortgages or rent in a state where those who are unemployed or underemployed is nearly 23 percent.
Need more evidence that Brown is catering to the most powerful government employee unions? He has booted those members of the State Board of Education who supported reform and were opposed by the CTA.
Expect to see these unions bankroll an avalanche of television ads in support of higher taxes focusing on children and the elderly and any other group that political spin doctors believe will illicit sympathy and get voters to open their wallets. In fact, the ads will surely ask for a generic vote of “yes,” without ever mentioning the words tax increase. Nowhere will we see represented the impact that our already high taxes have had on forcing business and jobs to flee the state, and the unemployed and under employed that are left in the wake.
Make no mistake; it is working families, especially low income families that will bear the brunt of these tax increases. The sales tax is highly regressive. The car tax will be the greatest burden on the working poor. And the impact of cutting the tax exemption for children is obvious.
So the question remains, will voters be convinced by a multi-million dollar ad campaign to approve tax increases which are designed, first and foremost, to protect public employee unions? It didn’t work in May of 2009 and, if anything, public perception of government unions has deteriorated even further. Perhaps no amount of campaign funds will give the unions the tax increases they so desperately want. And, after criticizing Meg Whitman on how much she spent on her run for Governor, perhaps a costly defeat for the unions would be poetic justice.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -– California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.