Bring Out the Budget Scissors

Bring Out the Budget Scissors

MARCH 31, 2011

By JOHN SEILER

The voters have spoken: Cut the budget even more.

Gov. Jerry Brown and Democrats in the Legislature have spent several months insisting that voters must have the opportunity to approve extensions of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2009 tax increase. The amount would be $12 billion. And the vote must be taken in June.

Now that option looks to be dead.

Brown said yesterday, in the YouTube at the right:

Each and every Republican legislator I’ve spoken to believes that voters should not have this right to vote unless I agree to an ever changing list of collateral demands. Many of the Republican demands will actually increase our budget deficit and mean additional cuts to education and public safety.

Were the voters cheated? Not really. For two reasons.

First, the voters actually voted last November for this current system. They passed Proposition 25. According to Ballotpedia, here’s the official ballot title that voters read, and voted on:

Changes Legislative Vote Requirement to Pass Budget and Budget-Related Legislation from Two-Thirds to a Simple Majority. Retains Two-Thirds Vote Requirement for Taxes. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

Only policy wonks and journalists like me actually read the full texts of budget measures. Almost every voter just checks out the wording right there in front of him in the voting booth, or on the absentee ballot.

So, here are the key words: “Retains Two-Thirds Vote Requirement for Taxes.”

What Brown wants is a little different, a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to put a vote on the ballot. But it’s essentially the same thing: a two-thirds vote on taxes.

Democrats currently are wallowing in their newfound power to pass a budget with just their majority, shunning Republicans completely.

Well, that power came only because voters passed the whole of Prop. 25, including the re-affirmation of the two-thirds vote requirement for a tax increase.

Tax Increase Would Lose

The second reason voters won’t be cheated by not having a tax-increase election in June is that polls clearly show the tax increase would lose. The PPIC poll released last week tallied that just 46 percent of likely voters backed the tax increase.

Anyone who’s been around politics a while knows that, if a tax increase doesn’t score well in polls more than two months before an election, it never will pass. So the election would just be a waste of the taxpayers’ money.

The cost of the 2003 recall Special Election was about $66 million, according to the Secretary of State’s office. With inflation, a Special Election this year well could cost $100 million.

So, by not having the election at all, the state just saved about $100 million.

Return of Gov. Moonbeam?

Brown has been trying to live down his Gov. Moonbeam reputation from the first Speed of Jerry Tour, 1975-1982. But as Katy Grimes reports today, sources in the budget negotiations complained that he didn’t bring his staff experts with him to negotiations.

I’ve never been a fan of ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But before he cut back his meetings with journalists, in 2004-05 he brought along his budget experts in two meetings he had with journalists at the Orange County Register. That included my colleague Steven Greenhut and myself, both then editorial writers at the paper.

In those early days of his administration, Arnold was sharp and up on the numbers in his budgets. But he obviously couldn’t know everything. When necessary, he let his budget experts answer a detailed question.

And we were journalists. Shouldn’t Brown do the same with Legislators, who actually write the budget bill, then vote on it?

Maybe Jerry is just Lost in Space.

A Time to Rend the Budget

As Ecclesiastes puts it:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted….
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance….
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
A time to rend, and a time to sew.

This is a time of rending the budget.

With the voters having decided against tax increases (see above), the only option left is to cut the budget. As I have noted before, the real problem for the budget is the periodic wild spending binges that have left the state with a bad fiscal hangover.

To cite just one of the three spending binges, as recently as fiscal 2005-06, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic Legislature increased spending an incredible 15 percent. Then they increased spending another 10 percent for fiscal 2006-07.

They made no provision for an economic recession. Then the recession came. Cuts have been made. But not enough. More cuts need to be made.

Following the Gann Limit

Moreover, as I also noted in that article, this problem would not have occurred if voters, misled by promises of more road construction that never happened, had not effectively revoked the Gann Limit in 2000. The Gann Limit kept spending from rising above the increase in population plus inflation. Brown himself endorsed Gann when it passed back in 1979.

If Gann had been in place since 1993, spending on the general fund would be limited to $70 billion — or $16 billion less than the spending in Brown’s January budget proposal.

That is, there would be no need for $12 billion in tax increases. And the state would have an additional $4 billion for a rainy-day fund to cushion us through another recession — a fund governors keep promising to maintain, but never do.

Gov. Moonbeam will continue to pout. Some members of the Legislature will scream. But what has been obvious all along to some of us now is becoming clear even to the most recalcitrant: More spending cuts must be made.

Let the cutting begin.

1 comment

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  1. stevefromsacto
    stevefromsacto 2 April, 2011, 11:01

    Nice spin, John. Why is it that when the majority of people surveyed supported putting a tax increase on the ballot, you completely ignored it? But now that the survey has swung the other way, it is suddenly gospel.

    I guess in the CalWatchdog world, a survey has validity only if the results support your ideology.

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