We at CityBeat are closer to “approve” than “disapprove.” However, there was one move that, in retrospect, we wish Brown hadn't made: He said early in his tenure that he would seek a bipartisan solution to the budget crisis. Things can change in an instant in the Capitol, but as of Tuesday, no Republican support for the governor's proposed budget appeared to be forthcoming, setting him up for at least the perception of failure.
We're not sure what gave him the idea that he could pry a couple of votes out of Republicans in the state Assembly and a couple more in the Senate. There doesn't appear to be any political upside for the marginalized Republicans to give Brown a budget victory. They obviously saw something they liked in how their counterparts in Congress have opposed everything President Obama has done and are employing the same strategy.
State Republicans wouldn't even vote for billions of dollars worth of spending cuts last week, some among their ranks suddenly expressing new-found concern for poor and disabled people and others falling back on a vague complaint about how the governor went about his spending cuts. It's only because of voters' passage of Prop. 25 last November that Democrats were able to enact devastating health, welfare and higher-education cuts—otherwise, the current $13-billion deficit would still be more than twice that size.
Brown doesn't have much time left to get a tax-extension measure on the ballot. If he can't bribe—er, convince a handful of Republicans to join his side in the next day or two, he has to marginalize the minority party even more and push its members out of the way. Thanks to a Republican request for a legal opinion, Brown appears to have the authority to get the tax measure on the ballot with a simple majority vote, rather than the two thirds majority he's been trying for, which would require that handful of Republicans we've been talking about.
The governor needs to install flashing lights around another Field poll, released last week, showing that voters want to be asked the tax question. The poll found that 61 percent of registered voters want the Legislature to put a measure on the ballot that, if passed, would extend sales, income and vehicle taxes enacted in 2009. Nearly as many respondents (58 percent) would vote in favor of the measure. Even 56 percent of Republicans said they didn't want to be denied a chance to vote.
Respondents said they want a balanced approach to solving the problem, which is precisely what Brown has proposed—roughly half spending cuts and half tax extensions.
California voters have packed the 40-member state Senate with 25 Democrats and the 80-member state Assembly with 52 Democrats (one seat is vacant), meaning Democrats occupy 64 percent of the Legislature. By any definition of fairness and representative democracy, the Democrats should be able to pass a budget, but voters want an unrealistic 67 percent of lawmakers to agree on taxes. It becomes glaringly undemocratic when you consider that the party holding just 35 percent of the seats can potentially force the majority party to agree to things the public doesn't want in exchange for agreement on the budget—such as the proposal by some Republicans to gut the California Environmental Quality Act.
Brown needs to point that out as he tells the public that his only choice is to go to the voters for a temporary tax extension worth $11 billion to $12 billion.
We don't like higher taxes, and we like cuts to Medi-Cal, higher education, parks, nursing for the elderly and welfare for single mothers even less. But before last week's actions, the deficit was $26.6 billion—nearly one-third the size of the state's entire budget. Finding waste here and there, reducing the prison budget or cutting state-employee pension benefits— that all sounds nice, but it won't solve the problem.
Brown must plow through the Republicans, go straight to the voters and campaign like he's never campaigned before.
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