Jerry’s Options Dwindle; Calbuzz Breakthrough Plan


At this stage of his life, Jerry Brown is at the end of his rope.

Biologically, the matter’s pretty much out of his hands. Politically, however, Governor Gandalf is still fighting the good existential fight, laboring day and night in an effort to craft a solution to the state’s budget woes.

As a political  matter, his biggest problem that needs fixing is this: most of the Republicans in the Legislature can just sit back and laugh at his exertions, getting exactly what they want by doing exactly nothing.

Not surprisingly, Brown is frustrated, exasperated and more than a little pissed off at the GOP members who are, variously,  inexperienced,  scared of losing their jobs and/or ignorant.

“If you’re not going to vote to extend taxes, if you’re not going to vote to cut, if you’re not going to vote to eliminate redevelopment, so what the hell are you going to do?” Brown said Monday night. “By the way, if you’re not going to do anything why do you take a paycheck?”

The boundaries of his dilemma are clear: He promised that he won’t raise taxes without a vote of the people; he doesn’t want a Democrats-only majority vote to put a tax extension measure on the ballot; he’s so far failed to peel off two votes from Republicans in the Assembly and two in the Senate to get a two-thirds vote for a ballot measure. And an all-cuts budget to eliminate the state’s $26.6 billion deficit is so draconian, it’s not clear Republicans would vote for it, not to mention Democrats.

So when he now vows, as he did Monday night, that a tax vote will happen “one way or another” — “no matter what anybody says across the street” — it’s clear he’s banking on some mechanism to get a measure on the ballot. But how, and on which ballot, are both unclear.

Brown’s approval rating of 48-21% (including 67-10% among Democrats, 45-23% among independents and 25-35% among Republicans) is far better than the Legislature’s at 16-70%, according to the Field Poll. But so what?

He can slap up a crappy You Tube behind-the-desk speech and argue “This is a matter of we, the people, taking charge and voting on the most fundamental matters that affect all of our lives.” He can go before Labor’s 2011 Joint Legislative Conference and cry “I say let California vote!” But he still seems stuck with just five options:

1. Get a 2/3 Vote: Threaten, bribe or cajole two members each of the Assembly and the Senate to agree to place on the June ballot a five-year extension of income and sales taxes and vehicle license fees passed in 2009. This was always Brown’s Plan A. But anti-tax forces have vowed to place on a stick the head of any Republican legislator who goes along with this idea, even if they get a spending cap, pension reform and regulatory relief for business in the bargain. “The moment of truth is rapidly approaching,” for this option, Brown said the other night.

2. Use the Majority Vote: Democrats in the Legislature have enough votes to place the extensions on the June ballot on their own by arguing that they’re part of the existing budget that’s in place until June 30. For starters, this might or might not be legally valid; worse, as a partisan measure, it might cause business interests who have expressed support to turn against it, to avoid being in league with the Democrats who will have conceded “only” budget cuts but no action on pensions or regulations.

3. Scramble for a June initiative: Some consultants have said it might still be possible to gather enough signatures for a June measure to extend the taxes, but writing a measure, getting approval, analysis, title and summary, circulating and collecting signatures would have to occur in record time. Most people think it can’t be done.

4. Adopt an All-Cuts Budget: Brown might still just throw up his hands and lay out another $14 billion in cuts. See above for why this option sucks.

5. Gather signatures for November: This could be a last-ditch attempt to keep his promise for a vote and avert massive cuts. The problem is that once they get past June, those extensions from the 2009 will have expired and continuing them, even temporarily, can more easily be characterized as tax increases. Polling has found about 55% support for extensions, 52% for temporary taxes and less than 40% support for tax increases.

Not a good choice in the bunch.

Voila! The Calbuzz Outside-the Box-Thinking Plan for Fiscal Integrity, Nuclear Safety and Peace in Our Time.

Here’s how it would work: Set things up so that the Democrats  approve, with a majority vote, a conditional all-cuts budget that presumes no tax extensions. (We wonder if Republicans would vote for it.) Then gather signatures to place that on the November ballot, with a provision that if the measure fails the cuts will not occur because the 2009 taxes and fees will be re-instated for five years. As a practical matter, cuts can be delayed to occur after November. And costs can be shifted to local government for local responsibilities whether the measure wins or loses.

Then let Grover Norquist, Jon Fleischman, radio heads John and Ken and the rest of their not-our-problem cadre be forced to argue for the budget ballot measure while Democrats and labor argue against it.

In other words, make the “yes” position a vote for cutting programs for widows, orphans, fish and fawn and the “no” position a vote for freedom, justice and common decency on our streets and in our homes. Recall: in the history of ballot propositions in California, “no” beats “yes” 67% of the time.

Such a move would fulfill Brown’s promise for a vote on taxes while ripping the mask from the Republicans’ phony we’re-just-protecting-the-taxpayers stance and forcing them to take public responsibility for the real-life consequences of what their position truly means: a massive reduction in popular public services, starting with K-12 schools and higher ed.

Right now the right-wing has the best of all possible worlds: they cry crocodile tears about government spending without having to lift a finger to take ownership of the painful steps necessary to reduce it enough to balance the budget exclusively with cuts.

Using political jujitsu, however, the Calbuzz Plan flips the framework on the whole debate, and denies irresponsible Republicans their current luxury of indulging in total unaccountability.

Is it legal? We have no idea, but we’ve paid enough attorney fees to know that it wouldn’t be hard to round up a whole stadium full of lawyers willing to argue that it is. If nothing else, that at least will boost employment.

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There are 32 comments for this post

  1. avatar RobMolnar says:

    1. Threaten bribe and cajole eh? Of course you mean this strictly in a political way, yes? Bribing public officials is a crime….threatening a public official is a crime. Jerry is left with the legal mechanism of cajoling. Unless you want to debate the legalities of bribery and threats?

    2. So now you are suggesting Jerry should break the law, and than see if its legal? Boy that sure is leadership.

    3. Which Sacramento hack amateurs are suggesting that there is time to pull off a fully processed set of initiatives by June? Name them. So we can mock them for yet another attempt at a gravy train election. It is IMPOSSIBLE to legally go through the develop/titlesummary/siggathering/sigverify/qualify in time. Do the math.

    4. ZOMG, not a real budget? Besides, an “all cuts” budget isnt really an all cuts budget…..its just not allowing the INCREASE in spending that auto-rolls every year. How much CASH does California bring in every year? The last few years its been around 80-85 billion, yes? So its not a CUT by putting in a budget that spends the effin cash that the state brings in. Every goddam year for the last 4+ years its been the same bullshit from you all. JUST BECAUSE THE AUTOSPENDING SAYS WE NEED A 120 BILLION BUDGET, THAT DOESNT MEAN ITS A CUT IF WE SPEND THE CASH WE HAVE.

    5. Gather sigs for November? Ok…please do.

    Its very interesting to see this CalBuzz post today….feels a bit like desperation is now setting in.

    Lastly, as a son of a Hungarian ’56er father, and grandson to a grandfather i never knew because he died in a soviet gulag (he was a land surveyor who refused to turn over property records in his village), it would be really nice if you all cut out the name calling of california republicans as “stalinesque”, “soviet”, etc.

    Thats my respectful ask…..heres my threat. Refer to republicans as “soviet” or any of the above again, and i will personally file recall papers on Jerry just for the fun of it.

    • avatar pjhackenflack says:

      File away, comrade.

    • avatar RobMolnar says:

      Incredibly disrespectful Jerry and Phil.

    • avatar RobMolnar says:

      incidentally, a Recall election would serve as a statewide election that other initiatives could be put on. We could have one big party…..put it all on the line.

    • avatar e-mart says:

      I laughed.

    • avatar Donald from Pasadena says:

      Yeah, you go do that, and file the recall petition. Maybe you and your fellow GOP cartoon characters can talk movie tough guy Steven Seagal into running for Governator. After all, he doesn’t seem to be doing much of anything these days. What’s yet another GOP political gimmick?

      Honestly, it’s the nasty, disdainful, and non-cooperative attitudes like yours that’s the problem here, not Gov. Brown. You just sit there all smug with your arms crossed, saying “No!” over and over like some stubborn four-year-old who refuses to eat her vegetables. You bring absolutely nothing of substance to the public discussion. And the damnedest thing is that blowhards, bozos and buffoons like you will be the first ones to complain when the school year runs from October 1 to May 15, with a month off for Xmas and New Year’s.

      Reality bites, dude. And let me tell you, it’ll bite the willfully ignorant especially hard. You people need to grow up.

    • avatar chrisfinnie says:

      Actually, the Sacramento hack amateur that suggested starting a signature drive was me. I suggested it months ago because I never believed Republicans would agree to this. I thought it was incredibly naive/optimistic to think otherwise. I even offered to start circulating petitions and get friends to do the same. And I have a lot of friends around the state.

      But, for someone who objects to offensive labels, you’re quick to throw them around. I’m no Sacramento hack. I’m a business owner in Santa Cruz County. I’m a political activist on a strictly volunteer basis. I spend a lot of time, energy, and money doing this because I care about the state and country where I was born and lived my whole life.

      I agree the timeframe is now unrealistic. It would have been tight when I suggested it, but not impossible. Because I’m not a Sacramento hack, nobody listened to my suggestion. But I invite you to check my comments on Calbuzz to see that I did indeed make the suggestion quite a while ago.

      So, if you want to blame somebody for the idea, you can blame me. Just don’t call me a hack. I don’t like it, and it’s not true. Actually, calling me a patriot would be far more accurate.

  2. avatar mezzicun says:

    RobMolnar represents the shrieking of the shrinking bunch! Part of that autospending you easily think cannot be done is in the Constitution. Further, you need to cut deals with those folks, ie, education, in order to not get sued and forced to pay it all back. And do you know what an all cuts budget will look like to those presumably less fortunate than you in your local community, and therefore affecting you?

    • avatar RobMolnar says:

      All one has to do to see how well the sacramento insider crowd (lets call it the Cap Weekly Top 50) has done over the last 8 years is to, well, look at the last 8 years. Same crowd, same idiot strategies, same shenanigans. Same result.

    • avatar mezzicun says:

      Last I checked the Sacto inside baseball game includes Republicans, always has, always will, the latter point to a certain degree. To say they are utterly blameless is completely foolish. Pragmatism has always been a central tenet of American political culture, and that has been a missing ingredient. To simply lock yourself out of negotiations leaves any sitting legislator useless and a waste of taxpayers money, while their ideologically enforcers, unelected as they may be, smile in the corner and wait to be the first to complain when they see the impact of an all cuts budget.

      Yourself included, RobMolnar. And grow a thick skin while you’re at it.

    • avatar chrisfinnie says:

      I agree! To say they are utterly blameless when the governor has been a Republican for 7 years, and the lt. governor for a couple of those–would be really sort of silly.

    • avatar RobMolnar says:

      Where did i say that Republicans are “utterly blameless”?

      In fact, i noted quite clearly to use the cap weekly top 50 as a guide…..nice try though.

  3. avatar patwater says:

    Creative… but why not think even bigger? By playing his budgetary hand pretty much as well as possible, Jerry has an incredible argument for reform. Why not go to the people and say something to the effect of “I have dedicated myself to California my entire life. I’ve been in Sacramento when it worked, and I have to tell you, something is different now. Our beloved state capitol is infected by partisanship and special interests, and our government systematically fails the potential of the California people as a result. So at this point in my life, I would like to redouble my commitment to fixing California by…”

    Then trot out any number of good government reforms: simplifying the convoluted web of local cities, counties and special districts (which fits nicely into his narrative about devolution), talk about reconciling the fragmented executive (which Jerry has already started to do by not bringing on a Sec of Ed), bring up public finance or some other “fight the interests” measure, etc.

    Or better yet, why not go directly to the people and call a constitutional convention?

    • avatar chrisfinnie says:

      Good speech suggestion. Has the virtue of being lamentably true. And there’s certainly room for reforms. Too bad the GOP isn’t suggesting any of the sensible ones you and others have suggested. The state Senate has started with SB 27 that would end pension spiking. I’ve already written Senator Simitian to thank him for sponsoring it. Anybody who wants to start the ball rolling on reform could do worse than to ask their representatives to vote for it.

  4. avatar DwightSchrute says:

    Works for me.

  5. avatar louiejc says:

    I was listenning to a Republican strategist here in Tulare county advise Republicans to not take part in the process since it was obvious to him, California wants nothing to do with Republicans. Therefor why should they compromise on anything. It sounded to me like their goal was to bend the populace of the state to there will. The same people blabbing about the tyranny of the poor and minorities opting to bow out, guaranteeing things will get worse.

  6. avatar Bob Mulholland says:

    The Republicans in California have had a Plan for 2 decades of how not to govern. Their Party registration just dropped to below 31% (the lowest ever in the history of Ca) and by the presidential election of 11/2012 the Republican registration will be below 30%. The Republican Leadership sees no need to adjust their Plan yet, wait till their Party registration is at 25%, then they’ll call an emergency meeting. In the meantime, there could be a few Republican Legislators who decide to let the people vote. Hard to figure out the Republicans who support the use of our military in Libya so those people can vote but are against the people of California voting.

    • avatar chrisfinnie says:

      Oh Bob! Republicans don’t like people to vote. They’re trying to stop student votes in New Hampshire. And ID rules all over the country would have the effect of limiting voter participation. They’re in favor of permanently disenfranchising former felons, and have repeatedly participated in mistakenly identifying voters as such so they can’t vote. They’ve sponsored a wide variety of voter-suppression efforts, including the fairly recent one in the congressional race in Orange County. And it was their biggest beef with ACORN. They registered voters, especially poor voters. The top-two primary, as you yourself pointed out, will limit voter choice.

      I agree about the Republican plan. And a big part of it is limiting voting rights. The rest of it involves denying people the information they need to vote intelligently. By defunding NPR, they limit access to accurate in-depth reporting about the issues of the day. By slashing education, they deny people the ability to learn how to learn, to know how to investigate and evaluate these issues for themselves. This makes the populace more amenable to the sort of propaganda people like Frank Luntz specialize in.

      Finally, by letting corporations spend unlimited political cash, and limiting the ability of opposing organizations to do so, they’ve tilted the playing field–they hope permanently. By turning working Americans into third-world wage slaves, they hope to make us afraid to exercise our rights.

      Fortunately, this has recently become so abundantly clear, that it is now backfiring on them. We are not yet so cowed, so uneducated, so uninformed that we are willing to lie down and let them do this to us. Yes, their registration numbers are dropping. But so are their polling numbers. And this is why.

    • avatar toje says:

      For what it’s worth, I don’t think students should vote, either. I was a student once. Didn’t have a clue about the yin/yang of politics/government/earning a living/raising the next generation, etc., yet thought that I (and my tenured professors) were so much smarter than my parents and other adults. Allowing kids, who have never experienced the real world to have an equal say in voting matters as someone who is actually a contributing member of society is not a smart idea.

    • avatar cbarney says:

      right, don’t let the kids vote. just send them to fight your wars.

      who makes up the majority of tea partiers? certainly not youth.

      a constituency composed solely of mature people is no more likely to show collective wisdom than one that includes everyone.

    • avatar Donald from Pasadena says:

      Who appointed you arbiter of voter qualifications?

      My God, some of the biggest ignoramuses I’ve seen in voting booths lately are middle-aged white males, especially in the South. (Birthers, anyone?) Maybe we should keep Fox News watchers from voting and see if we can’t get better leadership, perhaps in the GOP is not elsewhere.

      If you’re old enough to join the Army and carry a rifle, then you’re old enough to vote. Period. End of discussion.

  7. avatar Ernie Konnyu says:

    Governor Brown is on the right track, namely, develop a budget solution through the vote of the people. I trust that his skills and common sense will eventually prevail.

    Republican lawmakers are not really helping Brown as they should because our Republican party can not be publicly caught supporting tax increases. If we were found guilty of that by the people we would sink further than the 25% R. registration Mulholland predicts. So, it’s a survival thing.

    The CalBuzz solution is reverse thinking at work. Smile at them and go back to supporting Brown’s solution.

    And Molnar, as usual, is just stirring up meaningless diversionary crap that does not even try to solve our serious budget problem. Ignore him for it’s just a Chihuahua yelping.

  8. avatar tegrat says:

    It’s interesting how the Republicans, citing Reagan, cling to the knee jerk “no new taxes” demagoguery. Reagan lowered taxes once – then raised them eleven times. And he blew the federal budget right out of the water (which conservatives claim, with little supportive evidence, was what brought down the wall). The fact of the matter is that this country has prospered when marginal tax rates were the highest and the social compact between good government and the people was properly funded. But this fact is lost on Republicans who cling to ideology that appeals only to emotions and is devoid of substance. I’m all for a principled stance, just try to have it based on reality and not mythology, ok guys?

    • avatar chrisfinnie says:

      Do remember that you’re talking about people who use “reality-based” as an insult. Republicans are not big on facts. They consider them inconvenient at best.

    • avatar Diogenes says:

      I believe both sides of the arguement all too often use only the facts that fit. Remember if we’re talking about the prosperity of the late 40’s and 50’s vis a vis the tax rates at the time, that almost every other industrialized nation in world was as flat as San Joaquin Valley farmland due to WWII. Detroit never got bombed. There are a multitude of factors that go into all of these discussions and the cherry picking of stats and facts dilute the salient points that both sides have. It makes what could be good discussion and reasoning sound like hyperbole.

    • avatar tegrat says:

      True, but the truth has a liberal bias. You can look well beyond the 40s and 50s and still plot prosperity vs marginal tax rate with a very high correlation pointing towards the benefits of a more progressive tax. The so-called Laffer curve has no such supporting evidence, and even detractors amongst the conservative set. By almost any measure, the most telling being the huge increase in income disparity and wealth distribution, the conservative approach to taxation is clearly misguided.

  9. avatar toje says:

    As a 52 year old native Californian, I can guarantee you that your ballot initiative will be too tricky for the general electorate to follow. The yes votes would carry the day, whether the majority actually wanted all tax cuts or not.

  10. avatar toje says:

    As in most of these budget debates, we never seem to drill down and ask the more meaningful questions, such as “why do we have so many people dependent on tax money for their very existence?”, and, “what would it be like if California’s public sector actually ran on fumes? Quite frankly, I think that it is an issue of needing to first reach consensus on the minimum basic amount of government that everyone is willing to support. Figure out the reasonable cost of said government, adjust the appropriate taxes accordingly. From there, we can collectively debate any further services and revenue increases.

    • avatar pdperry says:

      Quit trying to put forth logical arguments. You’ll get blasted by the echo chamber.

    • avatar SezMe says:

      It is simply not possible to find that consensus you’re looking for, toje. For one reason, there are too many libertarian loons for whom the answer is a non-negotiable zero. Another is that it is a fool’s errand to seek one number that fits all Californians. Some, such as the physically or mentally handicapped, that need a lot of support while others, like pdperry, who need none. Hence there is no such thing as a “minimum basic amount of government”.

      But if you want to seek some golden numbers, I have some to offer up. Such as the maximum tax write-offs that a corporation can take. Or the maximum number of lobbyists and hookers (oops, redundancy) that can operate in Sacramento. Or, to closely match the number you seek, how about consensus on the maximum corporate welfare that the government should provide.

      In short, in contrast to pdperry’s assertion, I can’t find much logical content in your post … but maybe I’m just a small sound wave in the “echo chamber”.

  11. avatar LillithMc says:

    I would like a simple, clear proposition that supports public schools, parks, libraries and pays for it with whatever it takes including tweeking Prop. 13 on commercial property, oil depletion tax, and whatever is logical and simple. Let the Jarvis people do their thing. They have been in power since Jerry Brown was governor when he begged people not to approve the weird idea called Prop. 13 that probably sank CA. The legislators could have protected seniors and everyone else from extreme residential property inflation, but they let con-artist Jarvis take over. Now the nutters also run DC the same way. I believe regular people do not want the GOP government destruction, privatization and their pandering to the wealthy. Either democracy works or it doesn’t because we are going down for sure the way things are now. The right idea will connect because, just like Egypt, we have technology and the willingness to get out and make a change.

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