The Bridge Over the River Kwai is an oldie but a goodie – a film in which the late Alec Guinness (better known to the world as Obi-Wan Kenobi), as a British officer turned prisoner of war, puts everything he has into building a bridge that will aid his Japanese captors. Spoiler alert – he realizes only too late what he’s done.
If they were to remake the movie today, you could replace the bridge with Jerry Brown’s temporary taxes.
When you tally it all up, it’s been remarkable all the sacrifices Brown has been willing to make just to get a chance for voters to cast ballots on his temporary taxes.
He gave up his political honeymoon – a good time for governors to get things done – to try to convince the legislature to put the temporary taxes on the ballot.
He made cuts that hurt social services, higher education, and schools – and may have compromised the future of the state. Those cuts not only hurt important programs – but also they were shots at his allies. He made a fetish of cuts, adopting Republican rhetoric – and Republican narratives – as he made the case that the state was wasting money. And when all that was enough in his first year, he pushed – and succeeded in getting – a second year budget with even more cuts.
Unable to get the legislature to permit him a vote on temporary taxes, he turned to the initiative process to get a vote on temporary taxes. That required him to raise money from all kinds of interests with business before the state – in ways that could compromise him. Confronted with a union-backed measure that competed against his, he abandoned a measure he had defended and re-filed a joint measure
He also altered the initiative process in problematic ways, all in service of his temporary tax measure. Initiatives were all thrown onto the general election ballot. Then, when that ballot became problematically crowded for his own initiative, he tried to bend the rules to give his own initiative a pride of place. In the course of doing that, he supported a change that puts constitutional amendments at the top of the ballot, which may make it easier to add amendments to an already broken state constitution.
He may yet have to do more things – signing pension changes that he doesn’t agree with – to improve his chances of passing the temporary taxes.
Think of just how high the price of building this bridge – errr, getting a vote on temporary taxes – has been. And that’s without counting all the things he hasn’t been pursuing over these two years – things like the broader reform to the budget process and governing system that Californians need.
And voters might still turn down his temporary taxes.
Governor, was building this bridge worth it?