It is amusing to watch the anti-tax lobby and self-styled reformers crying foul because Governor Jerry and legislative Democrats maneuvered to place the Administration’s tax plan first on the ballot as Proposition 30. Well, despite opponents’ protestations, that is exactly where the Brown tax measure belongs.
We should stipulate from the beginning that there are no good choices when it comes to getting California’s fiscal house in order. Partisan gridlock and punting the problems down the field year after year have left the State with no alternatives other than slicing deeply into basic services and/or raising taxes. The borrowing card has been played and overplayed. Neither hiking taxes nor cutting programs will help boost the sluggish economy, but fiscal free-fall will only make things worse.
In a saner world, the Legislature by a bi-partisan two-thirds vote would have placed the tax measure on the ballot as part of a package that included public employee pension reform and streamlining of the CEQA process, but that didn’t happen and legislative dysfunction continued to reign supreme. The GOP wouldn’t budge from its “no taxes, no way” posture and public employee unions and environmental activists dug in their heels on the other reforms. So, the Governor left with no reasonable option other than going straight to the voters.
Proposition 30 is not just any run-of- the- mill initiative. It is the proposal that the Governor says is essential to stabilize the State’s fiscal mess. Without this measure, the grim reality is that both higher and K-12 education face unacceptable cutbacks and other programs will be gutted. The credit ratings for State and local government will be downgraded and taxpayers will be burdened with higher interest costs. Employers will be hard-pressed to find credible candidates for highly skilled jobs that go beyond mopping and cleaning up tables. If Proposition 30 fails, it is a sure bet that a new wave of populist initiatives to increase corporate taxes and adopt a split roll will follow. Proposition 30 is certainly not perfect, but it is the best that the Governor has been able to do in a thankless political environment. The voters deserve a clear shot at voting Proposition 30 up or down.
The top of the ballot is no guarantee of passage, but it will place the measure in plain sight where the electorate can make its decision with a maximum of clarity. If they don’t want Proposition 30, they still have the ability to say NO and/or to cast YES votes for Proposition 38 (Munger) or Proposition 39 (Steyer). Given the amount of money that will be spent and the level of media attention, ballot position probably will not be determinative, but that remains to be seen.
There is an old saying that “politics ain’t beanbag. ” If the Governor and legislative majority play hardball to put Proposition 30 in a favorable starting position, more power to them. California badly needs some tough leadership.