Bustamante's budget -- tough something

Debra J. Saunders

8/26/2003 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders

So who is riding to rescue the Dems from the dreaded recall? The party's new masked man is www.no-on-recall-yes-on-bustamante.com.

Republicans scoff at Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante's mixed-message -- vote against the recall, but in case it passes, vote for me. I don't see the problem: Democratic voters understand a hedge. It takes 51 percent of the vote to lose the governor's seat, but far fewer votes can keep the office in Dem hands.

Bustamante probably would like to change the fact that, not long ago, he went before rows of cameras and told the world that he "absolutely, absolutely, absolutely" would not run for governor in a recall election. As a professional observer of politics, I'm jaded, so I can forgive that he went back on his word. But in this sick-of-politics climate, recall voters aren't likely to be so generous.

If Bustamante is lucky though, voters will concentrate on his pulled promise and forget about his silly budget proposal, "Tough Love for California."

Tough? As in hard to digest? There's nothing tough about promising taxpayers that other people -- rich people, commercial property owners, smokers and drinkers -- will be paying $8 billion in higher taxes.

Especially when Bustamante is promising to reduce the slated increase in the car tax -- except for cars valued over $20,000. Yes, it takes a tough Democrat to tell voters that they can have bigger and bigger government, and not have to pay for it.

As Bustamante's political adviser Richie Ross says, "The greatest political slogan is "free food and beer.'"

Problem is, there was a $38 billion shortfall because state revenues dropped dramatically. And here's Bustamante saying he can stabilize spending by raising the taxes most likely to drop in hard times.

As GOP hopeful Peter Ueberroth told The San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday, the number of top income earners fell from 40,000 -- actually, 44,000 -- California taxpayers reporting seven-figure incomes in 2001 to only 29,000 a year later. In 2000, millionaires paid $15 billion (37 percent) of the money collected in personal income taxes; but either because they left the state or their incomes declined, a year later they paid $8 billion (25 percent).

Rich people are thinking about packing up and leaving -- and Bustamante wants to give them another reason to buy real estate in Nevada.

Richie Ross crowed, "No one else has been willing to say they are going to raise taxes on people who are not paying their fair share."

Maybe that's because all but the most craven liberals know that when the state chases away business and rich people, social services suffer because there is less money to pay for them.

Readers who like the idea of taxing the rich should be asking themselves if they are the rich without realizing it. Bustamante's budget plan promises to raise $2.9 billion for the state by changing Proposition 13 rules for commercial property. As Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association noted, Plan B wouldn't just squeeze skyscrapers, "He's talking about J&B Auto Shop, too."

Few Sacramento solons believe that Bustamante could muster the two-thirds vote needed to get his Plan B through the Legislature. No problem, says Team Bustamante. In fact, failure has been anticipated. If Sacramento won't approve the Bustamante budget, he'll turn it into an initiative and bring it to the voters.

"Then the argument will have been settled," Ross explained. For three years, Sacramento hasn't settled the question of whether to cap spending or raise taxes. Voters are tired of the tussle.

By bringing Plan B before the voters, Ross explained, the debate would be settled "one way or the other."

"Somebody needs to be brave," Ross concluded.

Well, if saying you want to raise taxes on rich people and smokers is "tough," I guess, proposing that the people get to vote on whether to tax rich people and smokers qualifies for "brave."