When Jerry Brown was newly elected as governor of California last night, I persisted in my optimism that he'd go to China -- that, as only a Democrat could (and as Andrew Cuomo vows to in New York), he'd take on entrenched interests such as public employee unions as a way of venturing a structural fix of our state's budget woes. It was a little more than wishful thinking, since, as a student journalist in the mid-1970s, when he was governor his first time, I remembered him saddling the elites at the University of California with a series of austere budgets. He also flirted with my dinner companion one time in La Jolla, but that's another story.
Then news came that Prop. 25 had passed. Deceptively advertised to voters as a way of docking the pay of state legislators who fail to pass a budget on time, its true effect is to permit them to pass budgets by a majority rather than two-thirds vote. A St. John's friend speculated weeks ago that Brown's promise -- "No new taxes without voter approval" -- was a veiled reference to Prop. 25. But I never imagined voters could be tricked into removing the only check on giving our cash-strapped state government a blank one.
In his comments today, Brown's stressing belt-tightening. But one-party rule plus a majority budget vote may well end up meaning substantial income tax increases.
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Thanks to the miracle of Facebook, I've been reminded by my St. John's brother Mike Cheever that Prop. 26, which also passed, and other laws prevent legislators from raising most taxes and fees without a supermajority, irrespective of their new authority to pass a budget with a simple majority. I had assumed that Prop. 25's change in the budget rules applied to the revenue as well as the expenditure side.