Governor Jerry Brown may have appeased the California Teachers Association, one of his most generous campaign backers, for now: In his revised May 17 budget proposal, he shields K-12 schools and community colleges from the big, stern cuts that will be necessary to pull the Golden State out of the red in 2011-12.
But billions of dollars central to keeping that promise are still up in the air.
Brown vowed on the trail that he wouldn't extend or hike taxes without approval from the taxpayers themselves. And according to a survey released last night by the Public Policy Institute of California, a vast majority (62 percent) of likely voters agree that "a special election is a good idea."
That's where the consensus ends.
Just because we want a say in the matter doesn't mean we'll specially elect to hand over bigger portions of our meager recession paychecks to the Taxman. Only 46 percent of expected voters in the PPIC poll said they supported Brown's proposed tax hikes and extensions.
Such can be expected from surveys that ask for our ideal scenario: Of course we want to protect health care and welfare and education, and all else necessary to win the future for our slipping West Coast paradise. But when it comes down to footing the bill, can we really be expected to want to empty our piggy banks into the vague, far-off General Fund, when we can't even afford to pay off our stack of parking tickets?
In the words of PPIC president Mark Baldassare:
"Californians have favorable views of the governor's revised budget plan and his special election idea. Yet the fact that fewer than half support his tax and fee package raises questions about the outcome if the voters have their say."
Governor Brown came into this job knowing he had some tough, unpopular decisions to make. (Thanks for the mess, Inseminator.) Who knows -- maybe his pledge to not raise taxes is what pushed him ahead of Meg Whitman last November. But that was then, and this is now.
More and more, Brown's colleagues and critics are worrying a Fall 2011 special election might be highly hazardous -- perhaps even worth a broken promise on the governor's part. Week before last, Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor warned via the Los Angeles Times that such an uncertain source of revenue could "wreak havoc on school budgets" and "create financial uncertainty that would hamper the state's ability to borrow."
Brown won't back down, arguing that the state Legislature's entire Republican row is insisting on putting the taxes to vote, besides.
However, if that's the case -- and there's no choice but to hold the special election -- Brown needs to be doing a hell of a lot more to sell the unsightly package. The only pro-tax propaganda we've heard so far are some cheesy California Teachers Association pleas on AM radio.
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Too little, too late. Brown can fly thrifty on Southwest and earn the adoration of the City Hall gadflies by cracking down on rogue redevelopment agencies all he wants, but love can't buy California the money it needs to climb out of this hole.
That's either going to take an unpopular executive decision, against the will of Republicans, or some serious groveling/scare tactics in which Brown lays out for Joe Sixpack what might happen if dude doesn't keep feeding the General Fund. Because announcing at a private California State Association of Counties conference that everyone needs to "get out of their comfort zone" (see photo) just isn't going to cut it.
For all the PPIC findings, including "pessimism persists" and "most Californians paying attention to budget news" (who knew?), peruse the full statewide survey here.