Thursday, January 27, 2011

C'mon Jerry, Voters are Grown-Ups

I am getting tired of Jerry Brown saying he didn't release a budget that doesn't assume voters approve extending the current taxes, because he didn't want to appear to be threatening voters.  I have read numerous quotes similar to this passage in today's Sacramento Bee.
Brown said the proposed reductions are only half as bad as will be required if voters do not extend tax increases. He invited Republican lawmakers resistant to such a measure to describe an "all-cuts" alternative, asking, "Is it really fair and honest to keep that secret?"

Brown, fearful of being seen as threatening to voters, won't release such a document himself.

"It's so horrible that we don't like to release it," he said.
Rather than an "all cuts" budget, I would call it a "current law" budget.  Current law is that the tax increases expire, and I think it is dishonest not to propose a budget under those circumstances.  I have a hard time calling his budget more honest than his predecessors (as some seem to be) when it is also based on a highly uncertain revenue assumption.

Would Brown's "current law" or "all cuts" budget really reflect what he would really do if the revenues don't materialize?  Or will it be crafted in such a way to create dramatic headline cuts in the most politically popular programs that will scare voters into supporting the tax increases.  If it is honestly reflects what he believes are the best choices and is prepared to do in the absence of revenues, then it isn't threatening anyone even if some people find it scary.   And why is he saying that it is Republicans burden to propose an "all cuts" budget.  If the tax increases are voted down, it will still be Democrats creating the budget by majority vote.  The relevant alternative for voters to consider is what Democrats would cut or protect in that instance.  If Democrats put together an honest "all cuts" budget, then I think Republicans should not stand in the way of putting tax increases to voters.

I would also like to see a smaller, alternative set of tax increases put before voters as a substitute for extending the current package.  I  don't particularly like the tax package that is expiring as it is regressive and further pushes up California's high marginal rates on a low tax base.  As an example, I would prefer to see us expanding the sales tax base (reducing the number of items exempted from sales tax, especially amusements like golf and movie tickets), and applying an oil severance tax.  All these exemptions have powerful lobbies, and are tough to get through the legislature, but I bet the public might support them if framed as an alternative to the current higher sales and income tax rates on everyone.


  1. I agree that the Governor (and all other politicians, for that matter) should treat us as grown-ups and tell it to us straight. I disagree with your quibble about the characterization of the budget proposals, however. A budget that doesn't count on the tax extension would be an "all cuts" budget. That is accurate, because that would be the only way to balance it. "Current law budget" is not accurate, on the other hand. The enacted budget is part of the law, so any cuts would involve changes to the law as currently enacted. So it wouldn't be "current law." I can see that you are trying to make the prospect of draconian cuts more palatable, for some reason, but I don't think its' a more accurate way to present it to the voters.


  2. Mike, I conceed your point.

    My "current law" focused just on taxes, not on spending levels which also reflect "current law." So "all cuts" is probably more descriptive.

    I would like to see the Governor's "all cuts" budget, and if the Republicans think it is threatening voters to get them to vote for tax increases, then I would like to their version of a better "all cuts" budget.

    As I mentioned, I would like the chance to vote on a different set of taxes than extending the current structure for 5 years. I suppose people who really want high taxes could vote for both extending the current taxes and an alternative package of new taxes.