You might think that Gov. Jerry Brown’s appearance tomorrow evening at a dinner hosted by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce will mark the launch of Krusty’s “outside” campaign for his proposal to put $12 billion in tax and fee extensions on the June ballot. But you’d be wrong.
Although his State of the State address was aimed as much at building broad support for his proposal as it was designed to speak directly to legislators, Team Jerry’s continued emphasis for at least the next few weeks will be on the “inside” game in Sacramento.
“He’s disciplined and focused on things that matter the most,” said his political adviser Steve Glazer. That’s the strategy for now. As another Brown ally put it, “The outside game could push the Republicans into a corner right now.”
So on Tuesday Brown met with Senate and Assembly Democrats. And he’s scheduled to meet with Senate and Assembly Republicans on Wednesday, all the while working on individual and small groups of legislators in hopes of convincing them that it’s in their interest to place his tax and fee measure on the ballot. To do that, he needs agreement from all the Democrats plus two Republicans in the Assembly and three in the Senate.
Thus far, there’s no sign any Republicans want to give him their votes, although some GOP strategists and others have suggested that in exchange for pension reform and perhaps a spending cap of some sort, Brown might wheedle that handful of votes.
One possible scenario, according to a Brown adviser, would be for the governor to continue working the Cul de Sac for a couple more weeks and see what happens when his proposal is brought to a vote in the Legislature. If it fails to pass in the first house where it’s raised, then all hell breaks loose and Republicans in marginal districts get hammered for denying their constituents basic democratic rights.
Predictably, no Republican has yet put forth a formal legislative proposal on pension reform and there’s not a lot of time to consider one if one were forthcoming.
On the other hand, you want pension reform? Just check out Brown’s own campaign web site where he advocates: stopping pension spiking and abuse, renegotiations for a two-tiered system, and end to retroactive benefit enhancements, increased employee contributions, prohibiting pension “holidays,” independent oversight of pension funds, tightening of pension investment standards and a curb on investment placement agents.
All the Republicans have to do is get Brown to agree he will see that legislation seeking all of the above gets introduced and that he’ll fight tooth-and-nail for it and they’d have a pretty good deal to swap for a vote that just gives people a chance to decide if they want to extend some taxes and fees practically nobody is even aware of.
While only about a third of Californians are aware that some taxes and fees notched up a bit a couple of years ago, even fewer have any idea how California is financed or where the money is spent. Worse, according to the most authoritative study known to humankind on the issue of peoples’ knowledge about the California budget, it doesn’t friggin’ matter.
That’s what Eric McGhee at the Public Policy Institute of California demonstrated in “How Much Does the Public Know about the State Budget, and Does It Matter?” published in the California Journal of Politics and Policy. Here’s McGhee’s depressing conclusion:
The real driver of opinion on budget items is politics, not information. Popular programs like K-12 education receive strong support among all groups of voters, and unpopular ones like prisons do not. Within this variation, Republicans and conservatives oppose taxes and spending, while liberals and Democrats are more supportive of both. None of these conclusions is especially surprising, but the contrast with the weak effect of information is important nonetheless.
Overall, the results suggest no easy way out of our current budget impasse. The public might be confused about aspects of the California budget, but they have largely committed themselves to one side or the other in the budget wars. To the extent that they break ranks—for example, Democrats opposing spending or conservatives supporting taxes—it is tied to specific issues in a way that information affects only at the margins. As much as we may hope for it, we cannot educate the public and expect a clear path toward a balanced budget to emerge from the effort.
What this suggests is that a giant teach-in about the California budget is likely to have little effect. As we have argued before, what will matter – should Brown’s proposal make the ballot – is whether the issue is framed as a tax increase or an extension of existing taxes.