To hear Jerry Brown tell it, Republicans are holding democracy hostage by refusing to let California voters decide for themselves whether to wipe out the state deficit with temporary tax hikes.
Naturally, GOP legislators see things differently. For starters, they say voters should have a choice of anti-deficit ballot measures, including pension reform, a spending cap, even tax cuts.
However, when asked if adding those other measures to the ballot would change their stance on putting Brown's plan to a popular vote, some backpedaled.
When Brown took office in January, he inherited a $26-billion deficit. Soon after, he took a buzz saw to the budget, slicing that figure nearly in half. Arguing that further cuts would wreak havoc on schools, law enforcement and other popular programs, Brown said voters should decide what to do next: Guillotine the budget or temporarily extend a 2009 increase in DMV fees (0.5 percent), the state income tax (0.25 percent) and sales tax (1 percent).
To get the question on the June ballot, Brown needed a handful of Republican votes in the state senate and assembly. No dice. Although five GOPers (including Harman) tried to wheel and deal with the governor, negotiations ultimately broke down.
It's now too late for a June special election, but Brown hasn't given up. Hoping to cajole Republican legislators into allowing a fall election (which would cost about $90 million), .
Additional heat is coming from the California Teachers Association, which recently launched TV ads, and from Democrats threatening to punish the districts of Republican lawmakers who block Brown's plan from reaching the ballot.
To further muddle things, state tax revenues unexpectedly climbed $6.6 billion, whittling the deficit to about $9.6 billion. Republicans seized on the news as evidence that Brown's tax proposal is unnecessary. But the governor and some experts contend a scaled-back version of his tax plan is still needed to repair California's finances for the long haul.
Against that backdrop, Harman (via spokeswoman Eileen Ricker) and Mansoor offered the following rationales for not giving voters final say on Brown's proposal.
Reason No. 1: Deja Vu
Harman: "The voters have been asked numerous times in the past and have said no."
Patch Analysis: It's true that voters shot down a similar tax plan in 2009--as well as a November 2010 proposition to fund state parks with a small DMV surcharge. After the second measure went down in flames, even Brown commented, "The voters last night turned down a mere $18-a-year car tax by about 60 percent, so I would say that the electorate is in no mood to add to their burdens."
However, two recent polls show a majority of voters want Brown's proposal on the ballot--and they agree taxes should be raised to erase budget red ink. But there's a catch: Most want taxes raised only on the rich.
Patch wanted to ask the governor if he would consider revising his tax plan to target only wealthy Californians, but he hasn't replied.
Also worth noting: Democrats aren't the only party trying to resurrect a failed ballot measure. When Republicans unveiled their own blueprint for erasing California's deficit--without raising taxes--they proposed, among other things, a ballot measure to redirect $2.3 billion earmarked for mental health and early childhood programs. Never mind that voters have already spoken on that idea too--in the same 2009 election in which they rejected new taxes.
Reason No. 2: How About a Multiple-Choice Ballot?
Harman: "Why only taxes? Why not tackle pension reform or spending caps?"
Mansoor: "I would challenge the governor to put some reform measures on the ballot: pension reform, a tax reduction. ... That's what the voters really want."
Analysis: The idea of giving voters a choice of anti-deficit ballot measures has been echoed by a number of Republicans, although some don't want those choices to include anything backed by Democrats. Mansoor, for example, said the ballot menu should only feature GOP proposals.
Incidentally, pension reform is no cure-all. Although pensions will pose huge headaches in the future, right now they represent a mere fraction of California's budget woes. Even if the state could somehow revoke every penny of the retirement benefits it will shell out next year, the deficit would shrink by only $3.7 billion, according to the Los Angeles Times. That would still leave the deficit at about $6 billion.
Reasons 3 and 4
Tune in Wednesday for of this article. We'll also tell you how to test your own budget-cutting skills as a virtual legislator.