Shortly before last fall’s gubernatorial victory by Jerry Brown, word spread through California Democratic circles that the man had a plan that would address people’s fears about the future shortfalls with the State budget. It’ll be gutsy, they were told—a game of chicken that California’s Republicans would lose no matter what path they chose. The deals put together in the back halls of the state capital over the past few years were set to unravel in 2012, leaving the basis for future budgets in tatters.
The first order of business was to nullify our past Governor’s last attempt to add more bubble gum and bobby pins to patch up the current State budget. Flush with victory after basically drubbing the GOP in last fall’s statewide elections, Democrats hung together in Sacramento until Arnold said “Hasta la vista”.
The next order of business was for State and local officials to formulate “doomsday” budgets that reflected an anticipated downturn in revenues that would come as a consequence of temporary tax hikes expiring. That wasn’t so easy, because it put elected officials in the position of telling constituent groups that the axe would be falling hard on a wide range of programs. Nobody likes to go on record as telling potential voters that they’re screwed. So, many agencies took an easier route—painting a rosier picture of projected revenues than is likely to occur. There were still big budget cuts involved, but they weren’t really doomsday.
For instance, while the cuts to San Diego Unified School District budget for next year involved issuing warning notices to a broad range of employees, including area superintendents, nurses, libraries, teachers and support staff, the real draconian cuts that could be needed are merely whispered about around the Normal street headquarters. Nobody at the local level wants to talk publicly about the possibility that classes may end in April, 2012. And the cuts will go way beyond schools around the state.
Gov. Brown’s part of this deal was that he’d get the legislature to authorize a special election for June that would extend various taxes enacted over past few years that were set to expire. “Don’t worry, we’ll make it happen”, officials were told.
Now things aren’t looking so good. The Governor has thus far failed to garner the few Republican votes needed to achieve the supermajority legislative okay to call for an election. The GOP’s state legislators are so against “new” taxes they won’t even consider the possibility of letting the electorate have a say in extending existing tariffs.
Tony Krvaric, chairman of the San Diego County Republican Party, made sure to paint it as a vehicle for screwing state workers, telling the local press: “It’s a false choice. It’s scare tactics designed to get people to vote for tax hikes when there is nothing in the budget about pension reform,” And headline writers for newspapers around California are referring to the potential special election as a battle over “tax hikes”—the Union-Tribune has done this twice on its front page recently.
Gov. Brown remains upbeat about the chances of an election. Speaking before the California Labor Federation earlier this week, he even hinted that the special election could be called without going through the GOP die-hards in the legislature. The LA Times quotes him as saying: “They think they can say, ‘No, you have no right to vote.’ And that’s wrong. We will vote no matter what anybody says across the street.”
The clock is ticking on Gov. Brown’s deal. And there are no instant replays in California politics.