George Skelton
By George Skelton
Capitol Journal
August 29, 2012, 7:14 p.m.

SACRAMENTO — What Gov. Jerry Brown said recently about his proposed tax hike was complete balderdash. And I’m betting he was the first to know it.

He is not ordinarily delusional, after all.

The wily old politician proved that his comment was hogwash Tuesday when he flew to Los Angeles, the state’s biggest media market, to trumpet a new legislative compromise aimed at controlling public pension costs.

Brown had proclaimed that his soak-the-rich tax initiative on the November ballot was not about pensions or scandals or anything else except forcing the wealthy to pay more to avoid draconian cuts in education funding.

This is what the testy governor told pesky reporters Aug. 15 as he kicked off his campaign for Proposition 30, which would raise the sales tax slightly for everyone and the income tax sharply for individuals making more than $250,000 and couples earning over $500,000:

“This is not about any other issue. It’s not about the environment, it’s not about pensions, it’s not about parks. It’s about one simple question: Shall those who’ve been blessed beyond imagination give back 1 or 2 or 3 percent for the next seven years, or shall we take billions out of our schools and colleges to the detriment of the kids.”

OK, technically, he’s correct. On paper. From a policy standpoint.

But from a political perspective and looking into the minds of many voters, the question is about much more. It’s about whether they should send Sacramento more tax money. It’s about how the politicians have been spending what they’ve already got and whether they can be trusted with billions more.

Part of that equation is the state parks department hoarding $54 million while planning to shutter parks, the governor embarking on an unpopular $68-billion bullet train project with only $13 billion in funding identified — and seemingly uncontrolled state and local public pensions while private pensions have been practically eliminated.

So Prop. 30 is not just about paying higher taxes; it’s about pensions, parks and perceptions.

Brown obviously gets that, despite his rhetoric.

It’s why, to his credit, he pushed Democratic legislative leaders into compromising on a pension deal, which the Legislature is expected to pass before it adjourns by midnight Friday.

The compromise isn’t all that reform advocates wanted. But it’s more than public employee unions ordinarily would have tolerated.

The unions are backed into a corner at this moment, fighting with one arm tied.

They know that some meaningful pension change is necessary to gain voter approval of higher taxes and — even a bigger priority — rejection of Prop. 32, which would cripple unions by making it far more difficult to collect political money from members.

Beyond that, unions are leery of local initiatives that would roll back city pensions, such as recently won voter approval in San Jose and San Diego.

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