Let’s connect a couple of stories from the last two days –
The Wall Street Journal’s misreporting of what the Think Long Committee did (or
did not do) to help deal with California’s budget crisis and Governor Jerry Brown’s
veto of Sen. Mark Leno’s bill that would have allowed San Francisco to put a
vehicle license fee on the city ballot.

Billionaire Nicolas Berggruen funds the Think Long Committee.
The goal is to come up with ways to fix California’s fiscal crisis, and with
the help of Berggruen’s checkbook, to take the reforms to the ballot. The
committee is made up of an all-star cast of California politicos and civic
leaders. While we are waiting to see what these influential people produce, a Wall
Street Journal weekend article
credited accomplishments to the group that
it did not do.

Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters listed the
swings-and-misses from the Journal reporting., skewering
the Journal’s reporter
on the tip of his sword, er, pen.

Walters noted that, No, the committee did not twist arms and
get the legislature to approve a budget with a majority vote as the article
reported (this was accomplished by an initiative); nor did the committee recommend
a ‘rainy day’ fund to the legislature (that was put together before the
committee existed). Nor did the committee’s influence help cut the state
deficit by two-thirds with a combination of tax increases and budget cuts
(anybody following California politics knows THAT never happened).

concluded: "That’s about three strikes and you’re out in the accuracy

Meanwhile, Governor Brown was vetoing the Leno bill because, as he wrote in his
veto message: "Before we embark on a piecemeal approach for one
city, we should try to fashion a broader revenue solution to our state’s fiscal

Could it be that the governor is waiting for the Think Long committee to produce its overhaul of the tax system? 

He probably wouldn’t mind taking a
look at what the committee is doing and perhaps he is even making suggestions
to the committee while committee members carry on their work behind closed
doors. Over the course of the year, the governor has laid out his own fiscal

More than one source claims the
work of the Think Long committee centers around a changed tax system that would
rely on taxes on services and a flatter income tax as well as governance
changes. Some proposals by the Commission
on the 21st Century Economy
, chaired by Gerry Parsky during the
Schwarzenegger administration, likely will find their way into the Think Long
plan. Parsky is also a member of Think Long. 

As I have written before, the
uncertain and difficult economy during the Depression years led California to
rework its tax system adding both the sales and income tax at the time. Could
the rough economic seas of today lead to more dramatic tax changes?

The problem is that time is
running out to prepare a tax system overhaul, especially if the plan is to put
measures on the November 2012 ballot. 

Testing the ideas in the court of
public opinion before filing initiatives would be a wise policy choice. Part
of the task for Think Long is to figure a way to get the planned policy changes
past the political hurdles any reform measures will face in what is shaping up
as a surly political year. Airing some of the proposals to gauge reaction would

But, there is little time for such
an option if the goal is to place initiatives on the November general election