Might a Grand Compromise Prevent an Initiative War?

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

Contrary initiatives on taxes, spending limits, pension reforms and other proposals are working their way through the qualifying process, as the new legislative session is about to start. Is there a chance that the legislature can come together on a grand compromise proposal that would undercut the initiatives from moving forward?

Governor Jerry Brown would prefer the solution come from the legislature as he demonstrated last year (with the voters signing off on any tax increase.) As of now, the governor expresses doubts that the legislature will come together on a compromise and is promoting his own tax initiative. He is trying to convince other tax increase initiative proponents to set aside their measures.

Brown also seeks support for his measure from the business community and even Republicans, if possible. He has been told that many in the business community want to see reforms move forward hand-in-hand with any tax proposal.

That would mean a compromise proposal seeking bi-partisan support would include a tax increase along with pension and spending reforms.

The governor might present the compromise as a short term/long term approach to fixing the budget. Taxes needed in the short term, spending limit and pension reform needed for the long term.

Brown could try this path once again, but it is unlikely that a legislative compromise would be reached and he knows it.

The first hurdle is that this is an election year. Legislators running for re-election will be very conscious of how their votes on bills will play with the voters. True the open primary and newly drawn legislative districts may have some Republicans and some Democrats thinking differently about how to position themselves. Especially with voters constantly telling pollsters that the state is a mess and that the legislature can’t seem to do anything about it.

In such an environment, compromise might be considered possible.

However, Republicans do not vote for a tax increase when they are about to face the voters. Many Democrats agree with that strategy.

Brown acknowledged at a press conference last week that Republicans would not vote for a tax increase. But there is another side to that coin that the governor did not expound upon. Democrats likely won’t vote for real pension and spending reform.

Public employee unions, which supported Brown, were furious that he even put forward his moderate pension reform package. In 2009, some unions helped fund opposition to continuing temporary taxes because it was attached to a provision establishing spending restrictions and a reserve fund. The unions will keep the pressure on their legislative allies to make sure such reforms don’t move forward.

A grand compromise is highly unlikely. The odds are Brown’s predication from last year will play out: A war of all against all through initiatives come this November’s ballot.

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