| As Jerry Brown finishes the first 24 hours of his third term as California governor, we're learning more about his proposed budget solutions - specifically, the austerity he will use to try and shock voters into approving new revenues, and what those new revenues might be. The Sacramento Bee has more:
The broad set of budget cuts that Gov.-elect Jerry Brown will propose in the coming days would touch nearly all Californians, eliminating local redevelopment agencies, shrinking social service benefits, shuttering parks and reducing library hours, according to a source familiar with his budget proposal.
Brown, to be sworn in this morning, wants to slash virtually every state-funded program to help balance California's massive deficit, in many cases resurrecting cuts sought by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger but rejected by lawmakers. Brown would restrict Medi-Cal access, divert low-level offenders to county jails and cut deeply into California State University and the University of California.
The Democrat is counting on lawmakers to approve the cuts to encourage voters to also provide revenue. A June ballot measure would extend higher tax rates on income, vehicles and sales set to expire this year, as well as eliminate a new corporate tax benefit. The money from the vehicle and sales tax extensions would be sent to local governments, which would take on some functions the state performs now.
The article goes on to note that Brown will try to get voters to approve moving funds from Prop 10 (the First 5 program, funded by cigarette taxes) and Prop 63 (the mental health surcharge on incomes over $1 million). You might remember that voters once before rejected raids on those funding sources, when Props 1D and 1E went down in flames in the May 2009 special election.
In many ways, Brown's proposals resemble the May 2009 special election closely. His other revenue proposals would be extensions of those existing revenues, just as was proposed in Prop 1A. That initiative failed when progressives balked at the spending cap. Brown hopes that progressives will support these revenues in order to reverse the all-cuts budget, and that other Californians not on the right will support them out of a desire to protect schools, parks, libraries and other vital services.
Similarly, some of Brown's other revenue proposals didn't fare well at the ballot, such as Prop 24, which would have closed the 2008-09 corporate tax loopholes but was rejected by voters in November 2010. And voters didn't seem too interested in saving state parks for a measly $18/year, which most voters could easily afford. Brown is obviously banking on Californians being sick of austerity and, finally seeing that there really are only two options - collapse or new revenues - that they will choose to save California.
To put it mildly, this strategy is pretty fucking risky. It may be the only way to get new revenues approved, but it is going to require a major mobilization of progressive activists to make the case for these revenues - especially to voters who consider themselves progressive but who have bought the right-wing talking points that they're "taxed enough already" and that if they're asked to pay another dime, they'll vote no out of spite. We saw some comments to that effect the last time I discussed Brown's shock doctrine. While the resentment at the way the rich have escaped their burdens is understandable, letting kids and the poor suffer isn't a legitimate response. If these initiatives are clean - i.e. not compromised by some right-wing thing like a spending cap - then progressives should support them. Either we're all in this together, or we're not. And besides, if we want to convince voters to approve new taxes for the rich, we have to show that a statewide electorate will raise taxes at all.
The other interesting story here is Gov. Brown's proposal to eliminate the redevelopment agencies. Getting rid of enterprise zones is a no-brainer; those things have been a costly failure. But the redevelopment agencies aren't as clear-cut a case. Many such agencies are providing some of the most effective and forward-thinking urban planning in the state, much moreso than the relatively status quo-friendly planning departments of most cities. Further, many major urban projects are dependent on redevelopment dollars, such as a convention center expansion in San Diego.
On the other hand, one could make a pretty strong case that funding our schools is more important than enlarging the San Diego convention center so that Comic-Con doesn't move to LA or Anaheim. And Gov. Brown may not need voter approval to abolish the redevelopment agencies and redirect their funding to schools.
Overall, this is a very risky move by Gov. Brown. I'm a bit surprised that he appears to be trying for tax increases and financial solutions that were rejected by voters in 2009 and 2010, and while Californians do need to be shown what will happen if those revenues aren't approved, Brown would also do well to add some new kinds of tax solutions as well - particularly higher taxes on those making $200,000 or more. Either way, progressives are going to have quite a fight on our hands this year, and if we lose, California will be headed into the abyss for some time to come.