California's new governor is a veteran of decades of political wars. But Jerry Brown may not have faced such sudden, formidable opposition since he ran up against a groundswell of voter outrage that resulted in the landmark Proposition 13 constitutional amendment to dramatically reduce property taxes.
In his previous stint as governor, Mr. Brown took his lumps in that 1978 campaign, bumping up against overwhelming voter sentiment. He changed his stance on Prop. 13 after voters had their say at the ballot box. Today he faces another groundswell of opposition, if not as numerous, perhaps as potent.
The governor has managed almost overnight to rally many local government officials against him with his proposal to abolish their pet projects that funnel taxpayer subsidies doled out by small cadres of local officials, essentially picking winners in local development and business. We strongly support Mr. Brown's plan to abolish 425 local redevelopment agencies that capture portions of local property taxes and 42 Enterprise Zones that award tax breaks and other incentives to favored recipients.
Until now, redevelopment and EZ proponents might have imagined Mr. Brown to be a likely ally, considering his long-standing preference for revitalizing inner cities and in-fill development, things he engaged in as mayor of Oakland with the aid, ironically, of that city's redevelopment agency.
But the redevelopment and EZ crowd isn't pleased at all with the governor for what he threatens to take away from them — their ability to continue draining taxpayers' funds for subsidized projects.
Mr. Brown was right when, as governor in 1978, he eventually joined supporters of Prop. 13, which he had campaigned against. At that time he abandoned a principled position to go over to the other side, and acted pragmatically to offset the proposition's effect on local government budgets.
His newfound opposition to these local agencies probably is driven more by a fiscal pragmatism forced upon him by a $25-billion budget shortfall than it is by principle. But today he would be wrong to join with opponents and abandon his plans to abolish redevelopment agencies and Enterprise Zones.
We urge him not to go soft. Abolishing these local entities will permit tax money to be used more properly by local cities, counties, schools and special districts and put an end to corporate welfare favoritism.