Jerry Brown says his new spending plan "will be painful, and take sacrifice from every sector of California."
But in his mission to rescue California from the financial brink, the state's new (and also former) Governor isn't just calling for deep spending cuts, the elimination of pricey taxpayer funded projects like "enterprise zones," and more taxes.
Brown wants to fundamentally restructure state government, a plan that begins with voters extending, for 5 years, a trio of taxes that topped $12 billion dollars and which are due to expire this summer. The Governor then wants to give that money to cities and counties, so they can assume control of many state services, including court security, fire prevention, and child welfare.
"When these taxes go away in five years," Brown says, "the state will still be obligated to maintain the funding. We will commit to that. So, people are not going to say, oh, you're going to give us five years, then what? The state will continue, even if the taxes go away."
The whole idea should go away, say Republicans who contend Brown is just trying to pawn the state's money problems onto someone else.
"I guarantee you, the intent here, behind the scenes, is to force these programs on local government, which they could do better. But it will be to phase out the state general fund responsibility for those programs, and tell the local governments, 'raise your own money for these programs,'" says Jim Nielsen, Republican Vice-Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee.
No question, Brown's plan relies on voters extending those income, sales, and car taxes in a special election he hopes will happen in June. He says without that money, he'll need to find ways to cut another $12 billion. Republicans say go ahead, because they've taken a pledge to oppose all taxes.
For new sources of revenue, taxpayer watchdog groups worry Brown will chip away at the 2/3rds vote requirement for local tax hikes established under Proposition 13, the landmark measure that limits property taxes, and has saved Californians $500 billion since it passed in 1978 (when Brown was Governor the first time around).
Jon Coupal, head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, says that is a concern "because if you lower the 2/3rds vote at the local level for special taxes, that's just going to mean a raft of new taxes at the local level, particularly things that are highly regressive, a sales tax, for example."
Changing any part of Prop. 13 would require voter approval, which is highly unlikely. Also unlikely: voters approving that tax extension -- an idea they've already rejected twice.
But Brown says he's determined to convince the legislature, and the people, that government accounting tricks will no longer work.
Over the next few weeks, he'll make his pitch -- that now's the time, and he has the plan, to fix California's persistent budget problems.