Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The (D) Is For "Different"

The hype around Jerry Brown's proposed plan to save California from recurring fiscal emergencies is that he is "doing things differently" by refraining from the sort of "gimmicks," "tricks" and "smoke and mirrors" that are the hallmark of any American budgeting process. That may be, but he's also relying some tried and true solutions from budget crises past

First of all Brown wants to raise taxes. (You don't say!) Actually what he wants to do is "extend" some temporary (hah!) taxes that were set to expire. I don't know why people bother to believe politicians who say this or that tax is "temporary." 'Taint no such thing.

Last month, Gov.-elect Jerry Brown argued that Californians were "in no mood" for new taxes. But on Monday, the new governor shifted gears and unveiled an austerity budget that proposed five-year extensions of increased rates in sales, income and some corporate taxes.

Brown's plan includes $12.5 billion in cuts, which would address what he called years of "gimmicks, tricks and unrealistic expectations," and the legislative analyst said the tax extensions could reap as much as $12 billion for a state awash in $25.4 billion of red ink over the next 18 months.

Those moves, and his calls to get the budget plan to the legislative floor by March 1, have been called bold by pundits of all political stripes.

But with some Republicans already lambasting what they call "the largest tax increases in California history," the penny-pinching governor now faces a formidable political test: fashioning a bipartisan truce to push it forward

More important, those of you who followed the campaign will remember that Brown repeatedly promised not to raise taxes without consulting the voters. His tax hikes will thus have to go before the voters as part of (yet another) proposition. As we just voted on - and rejected handily - a "let's raise taxes to balance the budget" proposition back in 2009, this would seem to be a tall order. Brown says that, as long as people believe there is a realistic plan, they will back him up. We'll see. People were all set to back up the Governator's plan to shrink state government, but when he proposed even the most penny-ante budget cuts, all those fiscal conservative voters vanished, replaced by aggressive public unions and self-proclaimed "moderates" quailing about partisanship.

And that brings us to the other "solution" from past budget crises: the search for bipartisanship. Brown is casting about for some Republican votes who can sign on to his tax increases. This brings to mind the budget negotiations in the spring of 2009 when the Governator and Sacramento Democrats spent their time chasing moderate Republicans, looking for the magic "third GOP vote," rather than, say, trying to cut more fat from the budget, passing pension reform or (God forbid) eliminating some public sector jobs. Profound questions of the size and scope of state government are tossed aside in favor of horse-race analysis about "recalcitrant" (and, of course, "extreme") right wingers.

All very flattering, but the fact is that Republicans had little to do with creating California's budget problems, and thus ought not feel compelled to "help" Democrats to save themselves and their political allies. I'd much rather sit in the back of the bus sipping a Slurpee, or whatever, instead of helping liberals to continue to tax and spend California to death.

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