Post Primary: Brown’s Toughest Foe Still Jarvis


jerrygandalfFirst-term Gov. Jerry Brown was 40 years old on a warm June morning nearly four decades ago, as he sat on the Assembly dais listening to Bob Hope crack wise about California’s financial mess.

“I want to tell you how great it is to return to Sacramento, the home of my money,” the late, legendary comedian told his audience of top state officials. “This is where they make the laws, and it’s only rarely that a victim gets to return to the scene of the crime.”

Not long after the June 6 primary, Hope was in Sacramento for a long-planned ceremony honoring his 75th birthday, an event the Legislature hailed with slightly more pomp than if he’d been China’s Paramount Leader.  By coincidence, the event came days after state voters shook up Sacramento by voting overwhelmingly for the sweeping tax cut known as Proposition 13, which the guest of honor called “the kind of thing you used to hear from a girl in a bar.”

The big star also claimed an alleged surprise sighting of the ballot initiative’s author: “I knocked on the door of the governor’s mansion, and Howard Jarvis answered,” he said.

The real governor was not amused.

bob-hopeGroundhog day for Moonbeam: Hope’s long-ago, one-liner shtick came to mind last night, as 76-year old Governor Brown pounded the opposition in the primary election, positioning himself to win an unprecedented fourth term in November. Despite the mildly annoying presence (“He is Vigo! You are like the buzzing of flies to him!”) of Republican Neel Kashkari (who was beating wing nut Tim Donnelly by about the same margin predicted by the prescient USC/LA Times poll), it’s hard to imagine a scenario that would stop Brown from taking a career-capping victory lap in November (assuming his heart and lungs keep working).

As a political matter, Brown’s 2014 task is far easier than his bid for a second term seemed back in the 1978 turbulence of Prop. 13; as a policy matter, however, many dilemmas he’ll continue to face as California’s chief executive were forged by the events of that steaming hot summer in Sacramento, as Brown and lawmakers scrambled under intense public pressure to enact legislation implementing the radical tax cut.

The result of their labors was a complete overhaul of governance in California, as power soon became centralized in Sacramento, which took over control of doling out money to school boards and local government for public education and many social service and other programs.

“The shift started within days of Prop. 13’s triumph,” journalists and Friends of Calbuzz Joe Mathews and Mark Paul wrote in “California Crackup,” a detailed deconstruction of the state’s structural and complex political problems.

Using the new power given to it by Prop. 13, the legislature divvied up the remaining property tax…Where once there had been largely separate and relatively well defined pots of revenue – one labeled ‘local,’ the other ‘state’ – there was now a single hydraulic money system, as vast as the state’s water’s works, with the legislature controlling the sluices and valves.

Howard Jarvis_CalBuzzIn inceptum finis est: So it’s a great historic and political irony that Brown’s current, successful-to-date effort to stabilize state finances, an Augean task that remains unfinished, in many ways involves undoing policies and changing public attitudes on issues with which he struggled in his first incarnation as governor.

A few salient examples:

—The governor has spent considerable political capital in recent years on “realignment,” his work-in-progress reorganization of funding and responsibilities for incarceration, rehabilitation and other programs; the tangle of jurisdictions he seeks to unsnarl was in part shaped by passage of Prop. 13, when he and the Legislature began to consolidate political authority, and by a raft of tough-on-crime legislation passed during his second term that sent prison populations soaring.

—Brown recently has battled longtime labor allies, both over details of a proposed state budget reserve fund, which will be on the November ballot, and over his efforts to curtail some benefits for retired public employees; it was first-term governor Brown, however, who took the first crucial step in giving unions their enormous power in Sacramento and city halls, when he signed little-noticed, but sweeping legislation, that gave state workers collective bargaining rights.

—Brown in coming months will likely face an up-or-down decision of whether to sign a key Prop. 13 reform measure, passed by the Assembly and awaiting action in the state Senate, to begin to close a loophole that long has allowed corporate interests to avoid some property tax increases when commercial property is sold. Although it is far from implementation of a full “split roll” system, it is an important first in undoing yet another unintended consequence of the young governor’s long-ago implementation of Proposition 13, which has led to a massive shift of property tax burden from corporations and real estate interests onto the backs of homeowners.

kashkaridonnellyBottom line: “Jerry could be fairly faulted, not for changing his stand on Proposition 13, but how he did it,” wrote Brown biographer Roger Rapoport. “The proposition, while responding to real need, was loaded with fiscal time bombs sure to detonate in the years ahead.”

subscribe to comments RSS

There is one comment for this post

  1. avatar chuckmcfadden says:

    California may be moving sensibly toward at least partial Prop. 13 reform, but we’re still quite … remarkable politically. Leland Yee receives more than a quarter of a million votes? Registered sex offender Glenn Champ receives nearly 59,000 votes for governor? C’mon.

Please, feel free to post your own comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.