Dems in the California State Legislature Play Hardball

by on May 18, 2011 · 11 comments

in California, Economy, Election

Legislative Democrats back Republicans into a corner in the fight to extend temporary tax increases and resolve the state’s budget morass.

Well it’s about time.  Democrats have traditionally been accused of being soft and easy to push around, particularly by partisan Republicans who have mastered the art of bullying and misleading their way to getting what they want, whether that be on tax policy or social issues.  But California Democrats—with a 52-28 majority over Republicans in the legislature, and a 25-15 advantage in the State Senate—are finally flexing their muscle and getting aggressive in a manner that has typically been reserved for Republican lawmakers.  It’s almost like it’s becoming a fair fight.

With the State of California still bogged down in a budgetary quagmire, Governor Jerry Brown has made it one of his top priorities to extend the temporary tax hikes instituted in 2009 and due to expire on July 1st.  Brown has insisted on putting forth a ballot measure to allow the voters of California to decide whether or not to extend the taxes for five years, or to let them expire as scheduled (a bad idea, letting the voters have direct say, but that’s another issue for another column).

Republicans in the state legislature—not surprisingly—have refused to even consider the prospect of extending the taxes.  Because, well, you know, they’re working—slowly but surely.

Democrats in Sacramento have proposed a balanced approach to filling the now $15.4 billion projected budget gap, down from the over $25 billion deficit originally projected for 2011-2012.  Massive cuts along with tax increases have helped to close the gulf, but more has to be done.  Dems are calling for more cuts along with some tax increases, including the extension of the 2009 temporary hikes.

Republicans in the legislature, of course, are having none of it.  Their solution is an all cuts budget proposal that won’t raise taxes, and eliminates programs that help the most vulnerable Californians.  Under the Republican plan released last week, early child development programs and funding for mental health services would be nearly eliminated.  Former Governor Schwarzenegger tried to divert those same funds back in 2009 with a ballot measure, but he was soundly defeated as California voters rejected the idea of taking away programs for at-risk kids and of putting more people with serious mental illnesses back on the street without any treatment, potentially putting the public at risk and shutting out those who cannot help themselves.

Republicans also say they would eliminate over $1 billion in state employment costs, but never specify just how they’d go about it—most likely by eliminating 10% of the state workforce.

Democratic efforts, meanwhile, were a bit hamstrung this week despite the delivery of some good news on the budget front:  The state saw an unexpected $6.6 billion increase in revenues from the increased taxes on the wealthy among other things.  It’s good news in the sense that it’s an additional $6 billion that the state wasn’t otherwise counting on, $3 billion of which Governor Brown intends to put back into California schools—a welcome reprieve for school districts across the state.

It’s bad news because it has given Republicans reason to squawk about it being unnecessary to extend any tax increases; they argue that the surprise revenues prove California is on fine financial footing, and there’s no reason to raise any more revenues.  Never mind that this recent windfall only partially closes the remaining budget gap.  And never mind that the state is still facing years more of deficits if something isn’t done.  Because for some reason it doesn’t make sense to Republicans to continue on the course we’re on, eliminate the deficit, balance the budget, and maybe even <GASP!!!> run a budget surplus and then consider lowering taxes, giving their rich benefactors a break.  That would make too much sense.  Let’s just ignore the fact that there’s no guarantee that the state will see that same $6.6 billion next year or the year after, which would put us even deeper into a hole.

But the Dems are fighting back for a change.  Even before the discovery of the additional revenue, Democrats pushed back hard against the idea of an all-cuts budget.  First came the seed of an idea pushed by State Treasurer Bill Lockyer and picked up by State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg.  They’ve proposed hanging Republican districts out to dry. If Republicans want cuts to services, then they’ll cut funding in those districts and redirect it to districts that will put the money to better use (i.e. Democratic districts).  It’s cruel, but it makes the Republicans and their constituents put their money where their mouths are.  They want less government; they want fewer government services and less government expenditure; what better way to show them how their plan works than to hit them at the local level?

But it’s really not all that cruel if you think about it.  After all, Republican districts in California are typically the more rural and sparsely populated areas, with a few exceptions.  It’s the more densely populated Democratic districts that pay the lion’s share of taxes in the state, and much of that money gets funneled to the Republican districts that apparently don’t want it (or at least their elected representatives say they don’t).

In a way, it’s giving the Republicans exactly what they want, if not in a way that they want.  If they refuse to raise taxes to help fix the budget mess, then make them feel the most pain.

Another plan being floated by Steinberg and the Democratic legislature—kind of an offshoot that serves roughly the same purpose–is to cut state funding for services such as schools, police, fire, health care, and other social services and allow local governments and school districts the freedom to raise taxes on their own to pay for it—including implementing for the first time a local income tax.  Locales that place a higher value on certain services would be able to raise the taxes to pay for them.  Those locales that don’t value such services won’t.

The problem with that idea, and what scares Republicans and business interests so much is that it would create this mish-mosh hodgepodge of taxation across the state.  You’d never know from street to street, city to city, how your taxation system would work.  There would be no consistency statewide, which would hurt business interests and their ability to plan their own budgets from one year to the next, creating a lot of uncertainty and hampering business investment (at least theoretically).

The thing that really scares Republicans and entities like the California Chamber of Commerce is that the Democrats have the votes to pass such a measure without any Republican support.

Brown and the legislative Democrats need a mere two Republican votes to pass their proposed budget.  But Republicans, true to form, have marched lock step in opposition, instead proposing their own budget that paints a pretty grim picture of California.  They need two reasonable Republicans to step forward and accept the fact that revenue increases in addition to spending cuts must be a part of any realistic budget solution.  So far there are no takers.

Democrats have decided that enough is enough.  If Republican lawmakers want to put people at risk; if they want to eliminate essential services and leave the least among us out in the cold, then the effects of those cuts should be shouldered largely by Republican districts.  They elected those lawmakers, and those lawmakers allegedly represent their interests, their desires.  It is their voice in state government.  So why not give them exactly what they want?

It’s high time that Republicans put their money where their mouths are.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

RB May 18, 2011 at 1:55 pm

The idea that you can withhold state benefits to some people of the state who are represented by another party is illegal. Apparently, Mr Lockyer and Steinberg were sleeping through their law classes when the 14th Amendment was covered.

The Equal Protection Clause, part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, provides that “no state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”.


Andy Cohen May 18, 2011 at 2:06 pm

That hasn’t stopped Repubs from passing constitutionally illegal legislation left and right from Arizona to Wisconsin to Florida and back. Why should they have all the fun?

But on a more serious note, perhaps that’s why they proffered the new tax proposal giving much greater control over taxation to local governments? Take it out of the state’s hands and allow local governments to do what they may, regardless of the chaos that would ensue. It’s pretty scary, but I think it’s more than just a threat.


mr.rick May 18, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Here’s the deal. The State pays for state shit. For example: state highways, state parks, DMV. You get the picture. Counties and local municipalities tax their people for local shit. Police, fire, locaal courts,etc. If your district wants lower taxes, then you would have to pick where you would cut your own districts stuff. The only thing the State of California would fund would be the things that could effect any other dstrict. And the locals would decide which programs they would or would not want to live without.This way if San Diego wanted to dog pot shops or whatever, they could use San Diego money to do such dogging.Get the picture?


John Lawrence May 20, 2011 at 3:30 am

Makes perfect sense. States should do what they do at the state level and municipalities should do what they do at the local level. For too long states have meddled at the local level. Reining that in violates no laws, but just gets back to more rational government. It’s the perfect antidote to Republican obstructionism.

By the same token the Federal government should favor those states with Democratic governments that graciously accept their help and ignore others that harp about Big Government. I note that is already happening with Texas Governor Rick Perry who can’t disparage the Federal government enough yet complains loudly when the Federal government won’t give him emergency aid for the Texas wildfires. I say to hell with states run by Republicans who try in every way they can not to cooperate with the Obama administration yet complain bitterly when they don’t get what they think should be coming to them from the Federal government.


RB May 20, 2011 at 7:49 am

The idea that you can withhold Federal or State benefits to people of the state who are represented by another party is illegal. Racist southern Democrats made the same poor arguments during reconstruction. They also promoted plans to use different financial treatment for area of their states control by former slaves or areas not paying the same amount of taxes due to poverty. Apparently, the far left has returned to these same misguided and illegal principles, while ignoring the Equal Protection Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment.


Andy Cohen May 20, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Why should people in more Dem leaning districts pay for services in the the more Repub leaning districts that the Repub districts apparently don’t want? Why should they be “forced” to take that money and put it to services they say they can live without? Why not put that money back into areas that actually WANT it? I don’t really see any downside to it…….it’s what the more conservative districts want, after all.

Besides, it would let them see first hand what their policies would really bring them. It’s tantamount to the Texas state legislature slashing the firefighting budget while those very firefighters are busy trying to keep significant chunks of the state from burning down. It would be like decimating CalFire during the 2003 and 2007 wildfires here. If you don’t pay for those services, you don’t have those services. What would have happened to San Diego if CalFire wasn’t there with their airplanes, helicopters, trucks, and manpower?

I say let those districts feel the pain of their own policies for a change. And if it works out well for them, then let them come to the rest of us and say “hey, this has been great! We’ve proven our way works, and you should follow our lead!” At least then they’ll have some empirical evidence that they’re right instead of just a bunch of hot air and bluster.


RB May 20, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Why?….because it is the law. The same law that prevents largely white populated districts and schools from receiving more state funding than minority populated districts. The same law that prevents Republicans from underfunding Democratic districts. The same law that gave slaves the same right to public funding as the white majority in the south.

You do realize that there are Democrats and minorities in Republican lead districts? Democrats and minorities that are protected by the Equal Protection Clause.


mr.rick May 20, 2011 at 8:02 am

One more point. It’s this thing about the low or no tax states who get more out of Washington than their tax payers pay in. Why is it that all of the states that get back more than they pay in are the ones who want to cut taxes or services? If we would pass a bill that a state would only receive funds equal to but not exceeding their federal taxes. Then maybe we could get our fiscal house in better order. If a state gets in a jam I’m all for helping them out but every year, year after year, we send maybe $1.60? to say,Alaska for every $1 in federal taxes they pay. I know it sounds harsh but just calculate how much we (Calif.) would save if we got our taxes back from Uncle Sam at the ratio as we donate. And why are all the doner states the progressive ones? The so called conservative states are the ones benefiting. The reason is that conservative is just an “Idea” that will be jettisoned as soon as it benefits them to do so. Example: Texas. Although Texas is probably a doner state, it just seems as if there is a pattern.


Andy Cohen May 20, 2011 at 2:24 pm


The Daily Beast published a story and an accompanying gallery on which states reap more federal tax dollars than they sow. Turns out that some of the reddest states are living high on the federal teat. And California comes in at #38, breaking even taking back one dollar for every dollar sent to D.C.


Stevie D July 11, 2011 at 1:09 pm

RB: Slaves had NO rights, so your argument is based on lies/ignorance.


Jeffro B July 12, 2012 at 2:22 pm

“Well it’s about time. Democrats have traditionally been accused of being soft and easy to push around, particularly by partisan Republicans who have mastered the art of bullying and misleading their way to getting what they want, whether that be on tax policy or social issues.”

See how lefties wrap themselves in he shroud of victimhood. Those minority GOPers are sure the bullies picking on those Dems that have had complete control of the state legislature for decades!!!

What a crock of s..t

The Dems screwed up this state being in bed with their union pals, and now they hold the entire stinking pile. They are upset because GOPers won’t help them clean it up.

Get over it Dems… you own the pile. If Brown’s tax increase passes, you will have more pile.

If Dems wanted GOP support, they would have put somethings on the table to horsetrade with. They didn’t. Like usual they are bullying with their majority. Afterward, when the mess grows, the Dems will cry even louder to secure their victim status.


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