|Voters Not Anti-Tax, just Anti-Sacramento By Douglas Jeffe
In sizing up the prospects for voter approval of governor Jerry Brown's proposal to extend a number of "temporary" tax increases, it is important to understand that California's electorate is not unalterably opposed to raising taxes, but is dead set against feeding the dysfunction in the State Capitol.
There are those who predict that voters will reject tax extensions because they rejected several measures on the 2009 special Election Ballot that would have allowed those taxes to continue. What happened two years ago was not a tax revolt, but voter revulsion at the Gang Who couldn't Shoot Straight in Sacramento. Sure the hard-core anti-tax crowd voted No, but so did a lot of bleeding heart liberals who just wanted to send Arnold a message. This was just a case of too many people seeing the sausage being made and losing their appetites. Besides, there was no coherent campaign in support of the measures or, more importantly, the reasons the tax extensions were needed. Voters sent a message to Sacramento, but it wasn't about tax increases.
That leaves the question of whether or not Jerry Brown and the powers that be can make a persuasive case that the blue smoke has been dissipated , the mirrors broken and State government is finally facing up to straightening out its fiscal house. This will require straight talk, an absence of gimmicks and specificity about what those tax cuts will buy.
There is ample evidence that voters will approve taxes to pay for services and programs that they see providing tangible benefits and improvements. Local school funding measures routinely garner the 55% YES vote required for passage. Counties up and down the state have seen voters approving local sales tax measures for transportation by a two thirds majority--even in Orange County and San Diego. Those measures passed because voters were given enough information to know what they were buying and who is running the show. From the public's point of view, the Governor is on the right track in wanting to devolve programs to local agencies.
Anything that smacks of bailing out the State Budget mess is likely to go down in flames. The Governor's current position that a Budget shouldn't be adopted until after a special election determines whether the temporary taxes will continue leaves things too vague. A Budget that is passed that specifies what programs will not be funded without the tax extensions will have a lot more credibility, particularly, if voters see that K-12 education is on the chopping block. When the voters are asked to make hard choices, it is important they know what those choices are.
All of this is moot unless the tax measures reach the ballot. GOP leaders are already saying that is a non-starter and Grover Norquist is loudly rattling sabers at the prospect of any road to revenue. this reflects the political equation that has been dominating Republican legislative politics for the past decade, but the game may have changed. Republican lawmakers have been representing seats where the winner is determined in a closed primary in districts drawn to minimize General election surprises. Now, we are looking at California's new blanket primary where everybody gets to vote in the Primary and the top two run off, regardless of party. In 2012, legislators will also be running in districts drawn by an independent commission or the courts and they don't have a clue who their constituents will be.
Sure, Democrats may need to worry a little more about the consequences of voting for tax increases, but a number of GOP members may be hard-pressed to explain how they chopped off school funding because Norquist and the anti-tax police said they couldn't let the voters decide.
Governor Brown has rightly said that none of this is going to be easy, but the outcome is far from cut and dried.