Poll says 53 percent of voters would support tax extension
By Chris Levister –
Governor Jerry Brown rolled the dice Monday betting the public will back his “shared sacrifice” budget plan. In a State of the State address laced with humor, a dose of tough love and a super bowl sized reality check, Brown challenged the state legislature to allow a special vote this June so that Californians can weigh in on extending temporary taxes on income, vehicles and purchases.
The $12.5 billion cuts could be even deeper if voters don't approve the tax increases, Brown warned. Schools, universities, prisons, local public safety, health programs and redevelopment agencies would suffer.
“At this moment of extreme difficulty, it behooves us to turn to the people and get a clear mandate on how we should proceed -- either to extend the taxes, as I fervently believe, or to cut deeply into the programs from which, under federal law, we can still extract the sums required,” said Brown.
The tax proposals include renewing a quarterpercentage point increase in personal income tax rates, which expired at the end of 2010, and maintaining a 1 percentage point bump in the sales tax, which lapses at the end of June. The higher rates would remain in effect for five years.
For Brown's plan to work, two-thirds of lawmakers would have to agree to put the tax measure on the ballot. And they would have to act by March.
The governor said it would be “unconscionable” to deny voters the choice between raising taxes or chopping “another $12 billion out of schools, public safety, our universities and our system of caring for the most vulnerable.”
“When democratic ideals and calls for the right to vote are stirring the imagination of young people in Egypt and Tunisia and other parts of the world, we in California can't say now is the time to block a vote of the people,” Brown said. “…The state belongs to all of us, not just the people in this chamber.”
Getting lawmakers' support, however, won't be easy, especially since the plan has already aroused much opposition from many quarters. Last year, the state legislature wrangled over the budget with then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, until October.
Getting the tax extension on the ballot is only the first step. Brown must then convince residents to approve it. Voters in November turned down a motor vehicle surcharge to fund state parks and made it harder for legislators to raise fees.
Voters, however, may be willing to help the state avoid a fiscal disaster this time. Some 53% of respondents to a Public Policy Institute of California poll released last week said they would support the tax extension.
Even if the measure is approved, Brown's budget still calls for slashing spending by $12.5 billion.
The cuts would fall heavily on the lowincome and the needy. The budget strips $1.7 billion from Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program, and $1.5 billion from Cal-Works its welfare-to-work initiative.
Also, the state's college systems -- the University of California and California State Universi ty -- would each lose $500 million.
Brown has already taken several small steps to bring down the cost of running the state. Last week, he directed all departments to immediately halt new car purchases and turn in taxpayer-funded cars not essential to state business. Earlier, he ordered agencies to turn in 48,000 government-paid cell phones.
Brown's speech was not all gloom-and-doom. He praised California's strengths and said its economy is on the mend. But balancing the budget is a crucial step toward recovery.
“Although our state's economy is starting to recover, we'll not create the jobs we need unless we put our own financial house in order,” he said.
Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina (D-Rialto) said Brown’s appeal to the greater good – the “philosophy of loyalty” he invoked at his inauguration will be put to the test as he moves forward with his budget plan.
“While we come to this with different opinions and different philosophies, our loyalty must be to California and to put the fiscal crisis behind us in the fairest way possible it's going to require everyone to give to accomplish that.”
Carter said as budget sub-committee discussions get underway, she anticipates Brown will reveal more details on his plans to support critical social programs such as adult day-care services, welfare-to- work programs, eliminating redevelopment agencies and shifting more governance down to cities and counties. “It’s going to require a tough balancing act.”
Republican leaders were dismissive, however. They noted that an extension of the same temporary tax increases Brown wants to renew appeared on the ballot in May 2009 and was resoundingly rejected.
“Higher taxes didn't solve the problem two years ago, and it won't solve it now,” said Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga. “Taxpayers already said no.”
Dutton called on the governor to cut spending more deeply and to do away with what Republicans consider burdensome regulations on business.
In his speech, Brown suggested he would work with Republicans on their demands to reevaluate the state's regulatory environment, rein in the cost of public employee pensions and reform the criminal justice system. But he nodded to the issues almost in passing, offering no concrete plans or further details.
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