George Skelton

CAPITOL JOURNAL

If the governor’s tax hike plan wins at the polls, he’s golden. If it fails, he’ll have to preside over some budget-balancing alternatives that will anger the public.

By George Skelton, Capitol Journal
September 17, 2012

SACRAMENTO — The stakes could not be higher for Gov. Jerry Brown in the November election. He’ll emerge either a savior or a failure.

Riding high or trampled.

Right now it’s a tossup.

You may remember the debacle Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger encountered in his failed “reform” election of 2005; also the beating Gov. Gray Davis suffered during the energy crisis of 2001.

Added together they may approximate the quandary — and the thumping — that Brown would face if voters reject his tax initiative, Proposition 30.

Think about it. Here’s the governor who pitched himself as uniquely qualified by experience and wisdom to clean up Sacramento’s fiscal mess. “The knowledge and the know-how to get California working again,” he advertised. “That’s what I offer.”

But in virtually the same breath, he diluted his power by making one of the most foolish campaign promises ever: “No new taxes unless you, the people, vote for them.”

Then the governor who thought he could “knock heads together and get people to cooperate” wasn’t able to budge Republicans into placing a tax measure on the ballot. He was forced to collect voter signatures for an initiative.

Brown dug himself in deep when he and fellow Democrats enacted a state budget in June that assumed voter approval of Prop. 30, which would raise sales taxes slightly for everyone and income taxes substantially on people making more than $250,000. The annual revenue boost would be $6 billion.

To protect the budget, the governor and lawmakers agreed to $6 billion in spending cuts that would be automatically triggered if voters shot down the tax hike. The cuts would be primarily aimed at education: $5.4 billion for K-12 schools and community colleges, and $250 million each for the two university systems.

That K-12 whack is the equivalent of knocking three weeks off the school year. The university cuts would certainly send tuitions soaring again.

So the governor who promised prowess would be presiding over the further devastation of California’s once-envied public school system.

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