It is hardly surprising that Gov. Jerry Brown is finding
rough going in herding all the cats required to make a real budget deal
happen-one that faces up to the realities and includes a bit of pain for
everyone. Yes, he has done an admirable
PR job with the symbols-canceling the cell phones, taking back the state cars
and putting a lid on travel. The cuts
achieved in health, welfare and other services have also gone through with
relatively little resistance. But
finding something that will attract enough Republican votes for a tax measure without
throwing Democrats and their constituencies overboard has proven to be a lot
more elusive than he may have thought.
There is a notion being promulgated by some pundit types
that Jerry Brown’s problem is that he never should have promised not to raise
taxes without a vote of the people.
Those critics need to think about the reality of the campaign, the
reality of the legislative process and the reality of where we are as a
California state of mind.
The Walter Mondale strategy of promising to raise taxes
didn’t work in 1984, and it wouldn’t have worked in 2010. Rather than evade the tax question or ask for
approval in a vacuum, Brown promised to give voters the chance to say YES or
NO-not a profile in courage, but a sensible, responsible way to address the
issue in a toxic campaign environment.
The second reality is that the chances of getting enough GOP
votes to pass a tax increase without a vote of the people are about the same as
my being selected in the first round of the NBA draft. If Republicans are being intractable about
placing a tax measure before the electorate, why in the world would they be
willing to stand for a tax levy without a vote?
The third, and most important, reality is that Californians
have lost any semblance of faith in Sacramento.
They feel, not without reason, that the Legislature and governors of
both parties have played games in the budget process-adopting budgets with
smoke, mirrors, borrowing and rosy revenue projections. The result has been an erosion of the state’s
functionality and a Groundhog Day mentality where every year the Legislature
and the executive branch see their shadows, and we are in for 12 more months of
fiscal purgatory. Never mind that much
of the damage has been caused by the electorate shooting itself in the foot
through the initiative process.
If California is going to have fiscal stability, there has
to be buy-in from the voters. Public
confidence has to be restored, and that means the public is going to have to
live up to realities-including the choice between cutting services and
developing new revenues. Under the circumstances,
the governor’s call for electoral approval of new taxes makes a lot of sense.
My guess is that when enough Republican legislators see
school cutbacks in their home towns and get a look at their newly reapportioned
district lines, a deal to put taxes on the ballot will be forthcoming, and we
will have an election in November. Then
we will see whether the voters own up to the fact that there is no free lunch
and finally decide whether they want to pay or eat.