Gandalf: A Great Seer, with Nothing Up His Sleeve


You have to hand it to Jerry Brown: he’s pretty good at predicting the future.

Right now, however, he’s having a little trouble handling the present.

It was more than three months ago when Governor Gandalf put on his swami cap at the request of the esteemed George Skelton, who asked Brown to forecast how things would play out in the Capitol if he couldn’t cut a deal with Republicans over taxes:

Events will unfold like this, (Brown) predicts without hesitation, if the Legislature fails to muster the required two-thirds majority vote … “I put up an all-cuts budget” … Then the Democrats change [the all-cuts budget] and put in gimmicks. Then I veto it. Then everybody sits there until we run out of money. It’s not going to be a pretty sight. It’s like one-two: No tax, all cuts, gimmicky budget, veto, paralysis.”

Not bad for government work.

On Thursday, however, as Brown shocked the denizens of Sacramento (particularly those with a “D” after their names) by vetoing a just-passed Democrats-only budget, it seemed quite clear that his time travel thinking never got past that whole “paralysis” thing. So our reaction to the veto, not unlike that of others, can be summed up in four words:

Now what, Mr. Wizard?

As a policy matter, you gotta admire the guy for the speed with which he boomeranged right back to the Legislature this B.S. budget, a quicksilver stew of borrowing gimmicks, phony fund shifts, raids on schools, a rosy economic scenario, plus a perennial crackpot scheme to host the world’s biggest garage sale with state property, all slap-dashed together to make sure all the solons keep getting paid.

(Whether or not that comes to pass, however, is still up to Controller John Chiang to decide, given that state lawmakers are charged with passing, not just a budget, but a “balanced budget.” Hint: when the words “complex accounting maneuvers” appear in virtually every story written by the Sacramento press corps, chances are the thing may be falling a little short of that standard).

Politically, however, Brown’s big move to knock all the pieces on the floor and start the game over seems less impressive.

It’s true, as he said in his veto message, that “Republicans in the Legislature blocked the right of the people to vote” on the budget you had proposed.

But he was the one who sold himself to voters as the world-class wily politician whose rare combination of charm, experience and intellect would convince everyone to sit down and reason sweetly in an atmosphere of good fellowship, before heading out into the night for a couple of pops.

Not for lack of trying, but after doing little else for five months, Brown has flat-out failed to get four Republican votes (1 would be good for starters)  for anything with the word “tax” within a half-mile of it. And as far as we can see, he still doesn’t have a decent strategy for getting those votes.

Instead, it’s just Brown, standing there with the public employee unions looking over his shoulder, pleading for some sort of bi-partisan cooperation that neither side has an incentive to offer. New ideas, indeed.

(Before we forget: Amid the endless gloomy gridlock feedback loop, we did hear an interesting idea from one prominent Republican on Thursday: offer the GOP that you’ll step down and phase out the tax extensions – 100% this year, 75% next year, 50% the year after, 25% in the fourth year and 0% in the fifth year — in exchange for the votes. Sure, it would mean more cutting, or more economic growth, next year, but it would make it clear that Brown is truly willing to actually eliminate those temporary tax increases enacted under Gov. Schwarzmuscle. Just a thought).

From Brown’s veto message:

We can – and must – do better. A balanced budget is critical to our economic recovery. I am, once again, calling on Republicans to allow the people of California to vote on tax extensions for a balanced budget and significant reforms. They should also join Democrats in supporting job creation and ending tax breaks for out-of-state companies.

If they continue to obstruct a vote, we will be forced to pursue deeper and more destructive cuts to schools and public safety– a tragedy for which Republicans will bear full responsibility.

Easy enough to say, but it just means that the governor is threatening to throw Br’er Rabbit in the briar patch. As we’ve mentioned, oh, 72 or 73 times before, the Republicans WANT an all cuts budget – passed by the Democrats and signed by Brown.

So where does that leave California? Back at square one, exactly as Speaker John Perez and Senate President Darrell Steinberg aptly noted. .

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There are 2 comments for this post

  1. avatar patwater says:

    Since we’re back at square one, maybe it’s time we remembered Governor Brown’s appeal to our higher angels during the inaugural: “We can overcome the sharp divisions that leave our politics in perpetual gridlock, but only if we reach into our hearts and find that loyalty, that devotion to California above and beyond our narrow perspectives.”

    Of course, what actually is “loyalty to California?” Crowd-sourced answer to that question here: http://www.allourideas.org/loyaltytocalifornia

  2. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    Brian Lubitz at Calitics has an interesting argument on this at http://www.calitics.com/diary/13585/tax-vote-without-23.

    A lawyer himself, Brian has a different take on the 2/3 requirement. According to my now favorite attorney, prop 13 said the Assembly couldn’t raise taxes without a 2/3 vote. It does not say the Assembly cannot put tax increases on the ballot for a vote of the public without a 2/3 supermajority. If the governor, who also holds a law degree, wasn’t wily enough to figure that one out, I really do wonder if he deserves the wizardly title Calbuzz has bestowed on him.

    This round, I think the Tri-Wizard Tournament cup has to go to Lubitz! I just hope somebody in Sacto reads Calitics.

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