| After seven years of Arnold Schwarzenegger imposing a right-wing shock doctrine on us - creating a crisis through bad management of the state's budget, including a refusal to raise taxes during a boom, then using that crisis to push through radical solutions that the public would otherwise never have supported - Jerry Brown may be planning a shock doctrine of his own. But this time, it would be more progressive, and would be designed to produce better government instead of to destroy it.
That's what I take from this LA Times article on Brown's possible budget plans:
California voters could be presented with a tough choice by summer under a proposal that Gov.-elect Jerry Brown is considering: Approve new taxes or other revenue in a special election, or live with far fewer government services.
Brown is holding talks with small groups of lawmakers and influential interest groups about how to put that decision before the public. He won't discuss his plans publicly, but people involved in the private discussions expect him to propose a special election after enacting a dire austerity budget in the spring.
This is probably the only way to resolve what I called the California Impasse - the fact that the public wants good government services, and is generally willing to pay for it with higher taxes, but hasn't yet been willing to actually pull the trigger - partly because nobody has ever actually asked them to do it, not since 1978.
By showing Californians exactly what their future will look like without new revenues, Brown offers the best chance to win voter approval of the funding we need to keep our schools open, to enable our kids to attend college, to ensure people get the health care they need, and to provide the public services that are necessary to enable job creation.
I cannot recall a moment in at least the last 32 years when that choice, which is the choice at the heart of what it means to govern California today, was ever put directly to the voters. In the aftermath of Prop 13, Democrats became skittish of proposing new revenues, afraid that the voters would destroy their political fortunes if they did. So for three decades, Democrats preferred to stoke asset bubbles to provide the job creation and tax revenues that had been undercut by Prop 13's passage.
Now, as Jerry Brown laid out at yesterday's budget meeting, there is no avoiding this central question any longer. Either we go all-in on right-wing policy, destroying the government services that enabled our 20th century prosperity, or we embrace a progressive future that can rebuild the California Dream for the 21st century.
Some wonder if the May 2009 special election result bodes ill for a June 2011 special election:
In 2009, the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger placed six budget-related measures on a special-election ballot. They included extending temporary tax hikes as well as proposed limits on future state spending. Voters overwhelmingly rejected them.
The problem here was that progressives were asked to support a truly reckless right-wing proposal, a spending cap, as the price of extending the temporary tax increases. Progressives were given the same kind of arguments that President Barack Obama is giving now to defend a similarly crappy tax deal - that we have to appease Republicans or else mass suffering will result. Progressives rejected that argument in May 2009, and have rejected it again in December 2010.
If we get a clean proposal - a truly progressive solution to the state's budget crisis that finally closes the structural revenue shortfall and helps fund our services and programs that are essential to 21st century prosperity - then progressives will work our ass off to get them passed in June.
Let's hope Jerry Brown understands that, and proceeds accordingly. In June 1978, the right succeeded in destroying the California Dream. In June 2011, the left will finally have a chance to restore it.