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Brown Goes Public With Tax Plan Vote Demand

Feb1

Blunt, feisty and funny, Gov. Jerry Brown called out Republicans Monday night, aggressively challenging them to allow Californians to vote on his proposal to extend $12 billion in temporary tax increases – or have the guts to put  forth their own, all-cuts budget plan.

With a civil but tough tone, he also directly confronted the statewide coalition of local officials who are furiously campaigning against his bid to eliminate redevelopment agencies, saying that “core services” like education, police, fire and health care for the poor are more crucial than their real estate developments projects; positioning himself directly in the political center, he also urged Democrats and liberal advocates for education and social welfare programs to make their own sacrifice, by accepting the $12 billion of cuts he wants.

As a political matter, Brown aimed his 1,722 words, not at the state office holders who crowded into the Assembly chamber to hear him, but at millions of voters beyond the Capitol.  Seeking to build popular support for what he repeatedly called his “honest” strategy to erase a $25 billion deficit, he clearly made the calculation that the time had come to frame the political debate in public, after weeks of low-key, backroom talks with lawmakers.

From the time I first proposed what I believe to be a balanced approach to our budget deficit – both cuts and a temporary extension of current taxes – dozens of groups affected by one or another of the proposed cuts have said we should cut somewhere else instead. Still others say we should not extend the current taxes but let them go away. So far, however, these same people have failed to offer even one alternative solution.

While Brown embroidered his 14-minute State of the State address with appeals for bipartisan cooperation to restore the “exceptionalism” of the California dream, his central message was clear, focusing on turning up the pressure on Republicans to abandon their hold-our-breath-til-we turn-blue stance against providing the handful of votes needed to put a tax measure on the June ballot.

“That’s his style,” said Robert Huckfeld, political science professor at UC Davis and director of the UC Center in Sacramento. “To his credit, he doesn’t pull his punches and he tells it like he sees it.”

“You don’t often see politicians speak that way,” agreed UC Davis environmental science professor Mark Schwartz. “But he’s got nothing to lose and he’s got to get something done.”

The money quotes:

Under our form of government, it would be unconscionable to tell the electors of this state that they have no right to decide whether it is better to extend current tax statutes another five years or chop another $12 billion out of schools, public safety, our universities and our system of caring for the most vulnerable…

When democratic ideals and calls for the right to vote are stirring the imagination of young people in Egypt and Tunisia and other parts of the world, we in California can’t say now is the time to block a vote of the people.

In the ordinary course of things, matters of state concern are properly handled in Sacramento. But when the elected representatives find themselves bogged down by deep differences which divide them, the only way forward is to go back to the people and seek their guidance. It is time for a legislative check-in with the people of California.

Formally dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and red tie, Brown in his plain-spoken words and firm demeanor took on the role of the tough-love truth-teller he had promised during his campaign for governor. Sounding like the adult in a roomful of squabbling adolescents, he pleaded for an end to silly partisan gamesmanship:

This is not the time for politics as usual…

If you are a Democrat who doesn’t want to make budget reductions in programs you fought for and deeply believe in, I understand that. If you are a Republican who has taken a stand against taxes, I understand where you are coming from.

But things are different this time. In fact, the people are telling us–in their own way–that they sense that something is profoundly wrong. They see that their leaders are divided when they should be decisive and acting with clear purpose.

Responding for the California Republican Party — but not necessarily for all the Republicans in the Legislature — CRP Chairman Ron Nehring proclaimed,  “We are determined to fight this unaffordable tax hike, no matter how many ways the Democrats try to soft sell it. Should the governor ever get around to embracing the serious, structural reforms our state needs, we’ll be equally supportive in those efforts.”

Nor were Brown’s allies on the labor left willing to fall in line. Art Pulaski, leader of the California Labor Federation priased Brown’s “vision for long-term recovery that’s been painfully absent in recent years,” but he decried “deep cuts to In-Home Supportive Services, health care and higher education {that] threaten to undermine his vision to rebuild California.”

A few other observations:

The influence of Anne: In his first turn as governor, Bachelor Brown  built a well-earned reputation for rudeness, as he routinely and dismissively dispensed with the niceties of politics. As a 72-year old married to the savvy former business executive Anne Gust, his approach last night was  civil and courteous, despite its tough message. He thanked lawmakers for their “cordiality and good will,” repeatedly invited them to share ideas with him and declared that he looked forward to “working with all of you,” doing a good job of at least faking sincerity.

Ad libs: A year and a half ago, Calbuzz recounted a LMAO appearance Brown made on CNBC   in which he broke the fourth plane, holding a white sheet of paper in front of his face and inviting reporter Michelle Caruso-Cabrera to truncate the interview after she ascribed craven political motives to a case he had brought as attorney general and tried to shine on his attempt to discuss its merits.

In his speech last night, Brown again broke through the bounds of convention, departing from his text  several times to deliver one-liner asides to the assembled politicians, in the manner of a comic telling jokes to the band: At one point he literally called attention to the elephant in the room: “I want to see some Republicans clapping,” he said as stone-faced GOP lawmakers sat on their hands; “That’s ambiguous,” he cracked at another point, after saying public pensions should be “fair to both taxpayers and workers alike.”

The vision thing: As he did in his inaugural address, Brown coupled his unvarnished description of the state’s budget woes with a high-minded appeal to the romantic ideal of California, leavening his message of painful choices with an optimistic view of the future:

Wherever I look, I see difficult choices. But I also see a bright future up ahead and a California economy that is on the mend…

We have the inventors, the dreamers, the entrepreneurs, the venture capitalists and a vast array of physical, intellectual and political assets. We have been called the great exception because for generations Californians have defied the odds and the conventional wisdom and prospered in totally unexpected ways. People keep coming here because of the dream that is still California, and once here, their determination and boundless energy feeds that dream and makes it grow.

Bottom line: While not as trenchant as the inaugural, the SOS was notable for its pull-no-punches candor — a top-notch performance.

Final count: eMeg $159 million, Krusty $36 million; 4.4-to-1 Whitman over Brown. She spent about $38.50 per vote; he spent about $6.60 per vote…But if you add in the primaries, the grand total for eMeg was $178.5 million and for Brown it was $36.7 million.


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There are 5 comments for this post

  1. avatar gdewar says:

    If redevelopment agencies were as great as they claim to be, he wouldn’t be advocating we get rid of them. most of the time they are either unproductive or just a cesspool of corruption so that politicians can raise big cash and give away money to their developer pals.

    More to the point: notice how few of them can show any projects today that are actively creating a benefit to their communities? Score one for Brown on this one – even the Republicans didn’t have the courage to go after these tax money pits…

  2. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    Nehring may not be speaking for all Republicans. But his comment wasn’t that far off of the official reply. The assemblywoman who gave that graciously agreed to help the governor with cuts. But rejected his call to let the people vote on extending taxes. She claims California voters have already rejected tax increases in the last two elections. So there’s no need to ask us again.

    Unfortunately for the assemblywoman, reality is more nuanced than that. Yes, state voters unfortunately declined a small increase in vehicle license fees. And, before that, we rejected temporary tax increases that were paired up with the poison pill of a permanent spending cap for the state. I don’t know anybody who objected to the tax. But I know plenty who were outraged by the cap plan.

    In addition, plenty of local tax measures passed in those same election cycles. I worked on a bond measure last year for San Jose community colleges. It passed.

    So it’s simply not true that California voters have rejected taxes. We approve them all the time. Maybe that’s the real reason Republicans don’t want to ask us. They’re afraid we might say yes.

  3. avatar louiejc says:

    Great job Brown.

  4. avatar tegrat says:

    Capitol Alert has Meg’s Massive Misinformation Spending Spree at $178.5, or roughly $43.25 per vote. But hey,who’s counting?

    The people of California have spoken by electing an overwhelmingly Democratic state senate and assembly. Unfortunately, democracy isn’t the rule in those chambers when it comes to creating revenue for the state. Until that changes, we will continue to defund the state until it is sold off at auction on eBay. Meg’s revenge, I suppose.

  5. avatar jamessyl1 says:

    Looks like Governor Brown has got it about right. Polls show that Californians are largely in favor of his proposals, and are willing to accept tax hikes as well as thoughtful budget cuts. Can anyone in the State still claim that the public is ‘overwhelmingly opposed’ to reasonable tax hikes? (Hint; YES!) So, let’s have the discussion, Gov! Lead the way! I’ll sure follow. Win or lose.

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