There was no wink from Gov. Jerry Brown when he said he wouldn’t involve himself in the Proposition 30 tax extension issue at his press conference Friday, but if you listened to the context of what he said you heard an audible equivalent to a wink. He said that Prop 30 was temporary; he wasn’t taking a position on the extension; he’ll let the people decide. Wink.
But he also said after reviewing a history of recent governors leaving behind difficult fiscal situations for their successors—(“bye-bye Davis; bye, bye Schwarzenegger”)—“No bye-bye, Jerry. Not if can help it.”
It’s about legacy and not leaving the next governor in a fiscal hole. For Jerry Brown, he’s been there. Leaving the governor’s office the first time in 1983, newly installed governor George Deukmejian found Brown left a billion-plus dollar deficit that he had to deal with.
Same thing happened when Brown’s father, Pat Brown, left newly elected governor Ronald Reagan holding an empty money bag with bills to pay. Jerry Brown inherited the whopper of all California budget deficits when he took over for Schwarzenegger following the Great Recession.
Brown’s budget predicts a deficit of $4 billion by 2020 if the tax extension fails. True, he said the state could manage that. The rainy day fund he is compiling for just such occurrences will be able to cover a $4 billion deficit.
But he doesn’t want that to happen.
Brown has been very clear that California’s reliance on the upper-end taxpayers—the top 1% pays about 50% of all income taxes—puts the state in a perilous position during economic downturns when those top taxpayers make less money and pay government fewer taxes. But he hasn’t worked to change the tax system.
As I wrote last week, Brown boxed himself in on budget matters when he signed the minimum wage bill that could add between $3 and $4 billion for state workers when it is fully implemented. On Friday, in response to a reporter’s question, he defended that action.
With Proposition 30 tax rates scheduled to expire almost to the day that Brown leaves office, budgets he oversees won’t be directly affected by lower income tax collection. But, he doesn’t want to leave the state in a humbled fiscal condition as so many recent governors have done before. He sees a downturn coming. Brown won’t be encouraging the voters to vote no on the extension or going out of his way to remind them that the title of Proposition 30 was “Temporary Taxes to Fund Education.”
It’s about legacy. Wink.