Posts Tagged ‘spending cuts’

Five Key Questions About Krusty’s Inaugural

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

As the Calbuzz National Affairs Desk braved torrential rains and terrific hangovers to lurch into Sacramento for today’s inauguration of Jerry Brown as California’s 39th governor*, one key question kept bothering us: Why are we doing this?

True, there’s value in being able to tell the grandkids we were eyewitnesses to history, as Krusty becomes the longest-toothed person ever to be sworn in (“ooh. that’s sooooo interesting, grandpa”). Plus, it’s been years since we had a really good look at the fascinating state Railroad Museum (plenty of free parking!) And, of course, there’s no way we’d allow staff psychiatrist Dr. P.J. Hackenflack to hit the mean streets of River City without a bevy of  sober-minded chaperones.

As a political matter, however, the plain fact is that Brown’s big day is unlikely to make much news or include major surprises, let alone justify the obscene expense accounts of the uncounted hundreds of executives, producers, directors, reporters, editors, photographers, graphic artists, web hotshots, roadies and tech team members whom we’ve dispatched for our special “Inauguration of the Old Guy” coverage.

The days are long since past when a governor could unveil a bold and uplifting agenda of sweeping new proposals, given the state’s recession-riddled economy and spirit-sucking financial woes.

No matter how ambitious Brown’s personal imagination and future vision may be, the one and only thing that matters now is how he intends to muck out the grungy stable of state budget mess – exactly the same old boring problem that befuddled outgoing Governor Schwarzmuscle, which Capitol pundits and scribes have been trying to invent new ways to make interesting for decades.

But, hey, that’s why they pay us the big bucks.

In any case, the Orange Bowl aside, there ain’t much else to occupy a couple of retired geezers on the first Monday in January. So here’s our look at the five crucial questions about today’s big doings:

1-Will Brown break his own record for brevity? In his first-ever inaugural, back when mastodons roamed the earth, Gandalf famously delivered a seven-minute address, still the shortest in history, with nearly no money quotes. As Bruce Newman reported in an excellent Murky News profile, “We have a lot of work to do – let’s get to it,” was about as good as it got in the soaring rhetoric department.

This time out, Brown is not so much throwing out the first pitch of a new administration as he is walking in from the bullpen in the bottom of the 17th to face a bases-loaded, nobody out, bloody mess that the last guy left him. So what is there to say, really? “There’s a lot of red ink to mop up. So let’s get to it and start defying the laws of arithmetic.” Eight seconds flat.

The longest riff we expect: The actual words he has to say to take the oath of office.

One more thing: What time will the chronically late Brown show up for his own inaugural? Calbuzz took the over – 15 minutes or more – in a high stakes bet with one of his staffers.

2-What’s he got to say about taxes? Brown and the Legislature are facing a pair of fundamentally awful choices: Slashing services and benefits for widows, orphans and sad-eyed little school kids or trying to squeeze more blood out of the great masses of cranky taxpayers and businesses.

The basic strategic play is clear: 1) Jam through a really, really ugly budget plan in the next 60 days – cats and dogs living together; fourth graders sent to sweat shops to sew tank tops and yoga pants for the rich; millions of lame, sick and foreclosed-upon shuffling through city streets; plague-infested rats streaming through shuttered parks as untended wildfires incinerate eight-figure four-level coastal homes; legions of violent knife-wielding felons suddenly sprung from state prison; bedraggled public employees asked to give up their fifth week of paid vacation, and worse. 2) Try to leverage this image of the Centre of Hell into a couple of ballot measures that win voters’ permission for some, at least, temporary tax hikes, perhaps coupled with a smart “realignment” proposal to push programs out of Sacramento and back to locals.

Sounds like a plan. But how to sell it to an electorate that’s dead certain there are countless oodles of money stashed in vaults beneath the Capitol? Does Brown start shedding political capital and delivering tough love news from the get-go, or wait and hope that the economy rebounds at least a little and then start speaking the T word? Inquiring minds want to know.

3-Will he actually eat a hot dog? The closest thing to a public celebration of Krusty’s ascension is the afternoon picnic in Capitol Park sponsored by the Orange County Labor Council, which promises a fine menu of burgers, dogs and chips.

Does Brown risk dropping by and having his picture taken with several thousand giddy union goons? And if he goes, will he indulge in the blue-collar cuisine? Asked it about last week, the governor-elect responded with an 11th hour entry for the 2010 quote of the year contest, telling the Sacbee that he’s “not a normal hamburger or hot dog man.” Talk about the understatement of the century.

4-Will he mention the California dream? Big picture, the new governor’s first and biggest challenge is to forge a sense of common purpose among Sacramento’s bitterly polarized and gridlocked  solons and special interests.

Clearly, it won’t be sufficient to employ, you know, logic on the Legislature’s dunderheads, who’d rather keep chanting brain dead ideological cant and slogans. So he needs to find a way of selling shared sacrifice for everyone in a way that goes over their heads and effectively appeals to their constituents.

During the campaign, the closest he came to doing that with even a shred of sincerity was when he talked about his family’s long history in state politics and invoked the California Dream.  Time to embellish that bit of rhetoric.

5-What time will he get home? In his first turn as governor, Brown was known to make the rounds, from the sadly departed David’s Brass Rail to the Torch Club, or head south for Lucy’s El Adobe or to some Laurel Canyon soiree with wing man Jacques Barzaghi.

Now that he’s married to the formidable Anne Gust Brown, however, he insists that he’ll turn in early, as more befits a magisterial figure of his advanced years: “I now have a wife,” he said during a debate with Meg Whitman. “I come home at night. I don’t try to close down the bars in Sacramento like I used to do when I was governor of California.”

Amid all the debate about whether Anne will act as Brown’s de facto chief of staff, one thing’s for sure: if his teeth are brushed, his prayers are said and he’s all tucked in by nine o’clock tonight, don’t bet against her chances.

* Or is this the third term of the 34th governor?

Seven Key Questions the Candidates for Governor Should Answer

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

It’s way early in spring training season in the California governor’s campaign: 442 days until next year’s June 8 primaries, to be exact. But it’s never too soon to start assessing the political talent that’s on the field.

With California facing 10.5 percent unemployment, a growing mountain of debt amid a global credit crunch and a political system in Sacramento that is way beyond dysfunctional, the people of the state simply cannot stand for candidates who try to con them with phony umbrage, personal attacks, focus-tested, superficial stances and trumped-up polarizing issues.

A couple of things we know from our own experience: A moderate –- which you have to be to win statewide –- will be bedeviled by the left-wing (for a Democrat) or the right-wing (for a Republican) of his or her party. And California can’t afford another politician who just wants to BE governor; it needs someone who wants to actually govern.

But the powers of California’s chief executive have been dramatically curtailed and constricted over the past four decades, to wit:
— A series of sweeping and often contradictory ballot measures have stunted and distorted the governor’s fiscal policy-making authority.
— The seas of red ink and billions in annual interest payments in which state government is drowning have sapped the governor’s strength in launching or sustaining new initiatives.
— Term limits have created a constant game of political musical chairs that puts top priority on partisan positioning in the Capitol. Assembly speakers are a dime a dozen and legislators have little reason to fear the governor, regardless of who he or she may be.

Given these limits as table stakes, any candidate who promises and presumes to be effective in the job not only needs the economic smarts to understand California’s financial morass, but also should possess a sure and subtle political talent for managing the wackiness and whims of 120 legislators — not to mention the stones to confront and face down entrenched unions and other special interests long used to getting their own way.

It’s a tall order for any politician, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came to Sacramento equipped with little more than easy bromides and breezy pronouncements, has learned the hard way that the day-to-day practice of politics is more art than science, and not as simple as it looks.

Whether or not anyone in the 2010 field can actually govern California in an effective and serious way, is of course, an unknown. What is known is that with the state clearly in decline at a time when the world economy is in turmoil, the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been. Between now and November 2010, calbuzz will focus closely on the gubernatorial campaign and its candidates.

Today, however, we start with a set of meta political and policy questions, and some follow-ups, that we think are important.

1. Do you have a serious plan to address the structural deficit in California’s budget?

What combination of tax increases, spending cuts and borrowing do you think is required? Which taxes, which programs? What is the proper level of debt for the state to carry? If California’s debt level is too high, what are you going to do to reduce it? Does your plan have a prayer of winning support from enough of the opposition party to actually be implemented? What ideas do you have, beyond tired platitudes and knee jerk ideological sheep dip, for reclaiming control of the budget?

2. Do you have a serious plan to help create jobs in California?

How would you use the executive levers of state government to encourage and align with private business to generate economic development for green industries and building, alternative fuel sources and uses, digital, bio and nano technologies? What role should the University of California play in economic development? How important is state support of K-12 education, and what level of funding for public schools will you absolutely commit to? Should students who receive state aid to attend UCs and CSUs have a public service requirement? What is the role of the non-profit community in helping to grow the economy, and what relationship should the state have these groups?

3. What life experience do you have that proves your ability to work with a Legislature representing the breadth and depth of California?

What have you learned from watching Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger try and fail to force lawmakers to fall in line behind an agenda? What have you done that has prepared you for a job requiring an outsize ability to cajole, bully, stroke and persuade 120 raging egos who are accountable to small geopolitical units? Explain how your political skills have developed and candidly measure them against the non-stop cacophonous, complex and conflicting demands of being governor?

4. What is your plan for changing the dysfunctional structure of state government and what reforms will you fight for?

Should the state dump the two-thirds vote required to pass a budget? How about the two-thirds needed to approve tax measures? Should the standard be a 55 percent vote, or a simple majority? If you think we should keep the two-thirds standard, what is your political strategy for overcoming gridlock and getting to two-thirds? Do you think term limits have worked for California? If not how would you get rid of them? Do you support or oppose the open primary measure that will be on the June 2010 ballot?

5. Would amending Proposition 13 be on or off the table in your administration?

Do you think Prop. 13 should be amended to allow a split roll assessment system that taxes commercial property at higher rates than residential? What about the problem of neighbors with similar houses who pay wildly different tax bills because of when they bought their homes? Do you think this inequity should be addressed or not? If he or she is not willing to advocate a change, what significant income source can the candidate point to that will even begin to generate enough income to meet the state’s needs?

6. What actions, or inactions, do you propose to take on polarizing hot button issues?

How will you use the power and influence of the governor’s office to affect same sex marriage, abortion rights, offshore oil drilling and illegal immigrations, including the questions of drivers’ licenses, publicly financed health and education for undocumented workers and their families?

7. What kind of administration will you run in regards to special interests and the media, and what values and qualities will you seek in assembling a staff and making appointments?

How will you relate to the media and voters in terms of transparency, open government laws and documents? In your professional life, have you been open and accessible or closed, protected and isolated? Explain your past associations and future intentions regarding the California Teachers Association, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the Business Roundtable, the California Chamber of Commerce and other big interests in the Capitol? Who do you consult with and listen to? Why should voters trust these people in and around the Horseshoe?

Let us know what you think of these questions, and send us your suggestions for others the candidates should be required to answer.

Send email to calbuzzer@gmail.com.