California Republicans should be smart, embrace tax election 

If Republican legislators really wanted to discombobulate their Democratic rivals, they’d stop blocking the tax election that Gov. Jerry Brown wants.

Why? Because polling — including a new Field Poll — shows support slipping for taxes that Brown seeks to balance the state budget, an indication that voters would likely reject them.

Brown still wants the election, or at least says he does, to make good on last year’s campaign promise. But his fellow Democrats in the Legislature are leery about having an election anytime soon, and the union leaders whose campaign money Brown needs are downright hostile.

Embracing the election would put Republicans in sync with voters, as Field and other recent polls indicate, and drive a wedge between voters and Democrats, as well as a wedge between the governor and the rest of his party.

If you’re a Republican, what’s not to like about that scenario? And were voters to reject the added taxes, as now seems likely, it would give Republicans the high ground in future debates over the budget.

Moreover, it would make Democrats seeking election next year in the new swing districts being drawn by an independent redistricting commission very leery about supporting taxes.

Last week’s release of tentative maps is already rippling through the Legislature. Some Democrats are shying away from their party’s budget, which assumes the taxes will be extended first by the Legislature as a “bridge” and later for five years by voters.

Were the income, sales and car taxes to go before voters in the fall and be rejected, it would not, of course, solve California’s chronic budget crisis. On paper, the state is committed to spending billions of dollars more a year than a recession-wracked revenue system can generate.

While Brown has said he wants the tax extensions — paired with spending cuts — to close the deficit, he’s also often said that were taxes blocked or rejected, he would cover the deficit by other means — and without gimmicks.

That would mean, one assumes, even deeper cuts that Democratic legislative leaders don’t want. They are already floating a gimmicky budget to soften the blow — and perhaps ensure that legislators’ pay won’t be docked for failure to deliver an on-time budget.

Brown has boxed himself in with his promises to balance the budget, not raise taxes without a popular vote, nor to use gimmicks. And his inability so far to deliver is, as the Field Poll also shows, eroding his standing with voters. His disapproval rating has risen 10 percentage points since March while his approval rating has dropped by two.

Republicans could drive another nail in his box by doing the unexpected and supporting a tax election as soon as possible, even if it includes a brief tax bridge.

It would be their Nixon-goes-to-China moment. And it might also settle this very tiresome squabble.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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Dan Walters

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Monday, Sep 15, 2014

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