CA GOP Shouldn't 'Go Wobbly' on Taxes

JUNE 16, 2011

I met Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister, back in 1993 on a visit she made to California to promote her memoir. I remember her talking about the first Gulf War and how she overcame the reluctance of George H.W. Bush to use military force to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait by exhorting the U.S. president, “Don’t go wobbly.”

I am reminded of Thatcher’s words as the California Legislature slouched towards yesterday’s constitutional deadline for passage of the state budget. Despite yesterday’s budget passage, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature’s Democratic majority still want to raise taxes to close the remaining budget gap — notwithstanding that California residents already suffer one of the nation’s highest tax burdens.

The 15 GOP senators and 27 Assembly members are all that are preventing the governor and his fellow Dems from extending for five more years “temporary” taxes originally scheduled to expire this July 1.

Indeed, if they can get just four Republicans to go wobbly — two in the Senate and two in the Assembly — they will have the two-thirds majority they need to pass the $9 billion a year tax extension.

Where the budget showdown gets farcical is that Gov. Brown continues to say that his proposed tax extension will be subject to a vote of the people, as he promised last year while stumping for California’s highest office.

He’s calling now for a temporary extension — a “bridge” — of the tax extension until September, when a special election would be held to allow voters, supposedly, to decide whether to extend the taxes through 2012.

Budget Legerdemain

That’s the kind of budgetary legerdemain for which the state’s tax-and-spend Legislature has become infamous over the years. Senate Republican Leader Robert Dutton and Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway have refused to go along with it.

So Gov. Brown has accused the party of Dutton and Conway of “thumbing [its] nose at the voters” and saying “to hell with the people” because it has not acquiesced in his call for a special election on taxes.

Yet “the will of the voters” is already known, as Assemblywoman Conway has pointed out.

In May 2009, Californians rejected Proposition 1A, which would have extended the very taxes Brown is trying to shove up the noses of the Legislature’s Republicans. And last November, the people said to hell with Proposition 21, which would have further hiked the state’s car tax to pay for state parks.

Moreover, in a just-released Field Poll, 59 percent of registered California voters said they would not support paying higher taxes, which vindicates the position the Republican minority has maintained since budget negotiations began this year.

Opening on Taxes

Yet, there may be a small opening for Brown and the Democrats — a deal proposed by four GOP lawmakers who suggest they might be willing to break ranks with their fellow backbenchers — clearing the way for a special election on taxes — if the governor  and his fellow Dems are willing to accept certain concessions.

The Gang of Four, GOP Sens. Anthony Cannella, Tom Berryhill, Bill Emmerson and Tom Harman, propose a state spending cap, pension reform, regulatory reform and reform of the California Environmental Quality Act.

Almost all the Republican colleagues of Sens. Cannella, Berryhill, Emerson and Harmon support the reforms they propose. But almost none supports the trade off the Gang of Four are willing to accept in hopes of getting the governor and the Dems to go along — a fall referendum on tax hikes.

Now is not the time for Republicans to go wobbly on taxes. No matter what promises of reform they might be able to extract from Gov. Brown and the Legislature’s Democrat majority.

— Joseph Perkins


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