Gov. Jerry Brown correct on grim state of budget, solutions 

Gov. Jerry Brown took time off from his busy schedule this weekend to go on the radio and talk about the state’s budget problems. And those are sizeable indeed; although no one has been able to precisely calculate the size of the deficit, it is sure to be considerably larger than $9.2 billion, the number Brown’s office released earlier this year.

Brown knows this all too well, and he’s been admirably frank about it. California’s leaders must, he said Saturday on KGO radio, bite the bullet and throw their support behind his proposed November ballot initiative to raise the sales tax and income taxes on the wealthiest Californians.

In addition, he added, the Legislature must show that it’s serious about fiscal restraint and cutting spending. “The Legislature has to man up, make the cuts, and get some taxes and we’ll make it.”

Up in Sacramento, the usual gossip-mongers played the “man up” remark as little more than another round in the Capitol’s endless catfight. “Sounds a lot like ‘Girly Men,’” tweeted Aaron McClear, former Gov.  Arnold Schwarzenegger’s former press secretary, in a reference to one of Schwarzenegger’s many intemperate remarks about his partners in the state Legislature.

But the present governor is entirely right, and we expect the state’s leaders won’t fall for such shallow politicking.
Meanwhile, Brown has cut a deal with four different state employee unions, extending their contracts — which are due to expire on July 1 — until after the November election and the vote on the tax increases.

This, too, is a smart move by Brown. The governor needs to focus his attention on passing his proposed tax measure, and contract negotiations would both distract his attention and potentially create a media sideshow in the run-up to November. Postponing difficult contract talks, the publicity of which would sour the public on what is otherwise a sensible tax plan, is clever politics, and we’re glad both sides saw the sense in doing so.

But let’s be clear: when this election is over, state employees have to give a sizable amount of ground. For far too long, public health and pension benefits have sucked critical resources out of the state budget.

Schwarzenegger realized this, and his plans to convert traditional pension schemes to 401(k)s was fairly sensible, even if his barnstorming melodrama was not.

We expect state employees unions to recognize that California cannot afford to continue current pension payment levels. We honor the work they do, and we would never suggest that they don’t deserve adequate compensation. The unions’ members include doctors, dentists and psychiatric technicians, as well as countless other employees whose work often goes uncelebrated.

But in our age of austerity, the time when pension and health benefits could be as generous as they have been is over. Brown and the unions have agreed to postpone their coming fight in order to smooth the tax plan passage. If, after the election, they think they can simply greenlight another sweetheart deal, they’ve got another thing coming.

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