Gov. Jerry Brown got it half right Monday when he proposed nearly equal amounts of new taxes and spending cuts to eliminate a $26.4 billion, 18-month budget deficit. Before this half-baked idea goes any further, Californians should contact their legislators and deliver the unmistakable message that any new taxes are entirely unacceptable.
Mr. Brown's budget refuses to accept the reality that the state will receive only $76 billion in revenue in the coming year after subtracting last year's $7.4 billion deficit, according to his own calculations. That's what's available to spend. Yet Mr. Brown plans a budget of $84 billion for the year beginning July 1. As anyone faced with limited income intuitively understands, planning to spend more than comes in is irresponsible.
Nevertheless, Mr. Brown essentially plans to do something like that by revisiting what voters twice in the past two years overwhelmingly rejected — tax increases. He wants to raise $12 billion a year in new taxes for five years on income, sales and vehicles.
Mr. Brown makes his case for more taxes an either/or choice, pitting taxes against reduced funding for K-12 schools. If voters agree to five years of higher taxes, school funding need not be cut, he reasoned, a transparent attempt to hold schoolchildren hostage. He is asking the Legislature to put the initiative on the ballot.
Temporary tax increases on sales, income and vehicles that the Legislature enacted two years ago expire this year. That means the tax increases in Mr. Brown's budget would be new taxes. It seems unlikely Mr. Brown can even get four necessary Republican legislators' votes to meet the state Constitution's two-thirds requirement to put tax increases on the ballot.
Mr. Brown's false choice ignores another option, although his budget dabbles with the concept by cutting pay 8 percent to 10 percent for 51,000 state employees not covered by contracts. A permanent, broader reduction in government worker pay and benefits could reduce spending by billions. This would require the state and local agencies re-negotiating contracts. Many private companies have cut salaries to save jobs and to continue services. If government services are what are important — as opposed to government paychecks — the state should first consider cutting pay, not services.