Gov. Jerry Brown's strategy to win the governor's seat has led California to this moment.
March 10 was Brown's self-imposed deadline for passing his budget package and placing a $14 billion tax-increase extension on a June special-election ballot. Late Wednesday, Brown wisely asked the Legislature to delay a budget vote.
As a gubernatorial candidate, Brown would not say he planned on raising taxes -- only that he would not raise taxes without voter approval. He must have known that he would follow the course he had set, but he also knew that 65 percent of California voters had rejected a similar tax package in 2009. So he was coy. And he won the election.
The day after Brown beat Republican Meg Whitman, he told reporters that he was very aware of the voters' rejection of Proposition 21 -- with nearly 60 percent of voters turning down an $18 surcharge to fund state parks.
"I would say that the electorate is in no mood to add to their burdens," he observed.
Clearly, Brown has used his victory to pull off a stunning feat of jujitsu. Four months after he recognized voters' refusal to pay $18 for parks, Brown has all eyes and daggers trained on Republican curs who either refuse to support Brown's tax measure or have not agreed to cut a deal.
The Republicans have their reasons: GOP voters oppose tax increases. Voters of both parties rejected the 2009 version of Plan Brown. And, GOP stalwart Jon Fleischman warns, Republicans who compromise can expect no mercy from Democratic opponents in 2012.
In 2009, Republican Abel Maldonado supported a tax compromise. In 2010, his opponent in the lieutenant governor's race, Democrat Gavin Newsom, hit him for supporting "the biggest tax increase in California history."
Eventually, I believe, at least two Assembly and two Senate Repubs will vote for Plan Brown. The adults in Sacramento understand that California needs clarity. With this measure, Brown has thrown down the gauntlet: If Californians want this level of government, they will have to pay for it.
Observe that a January Public Policy Institute of California poll found that 54 percent of likely voters support the Brown tax package. That's a very skinny margin. It's one thing to say you support higher taxes; it's another to vote for them.
Brown and the Democrats have to cut a deal that includes a spending cap and pension reforms -- not just to win the votes of GOP pragmatists, but also because if they don't, voters are likely to reject the governor's tax-increase plan.
Or do Brown and the Dems think that Brown is so beloved that he can get Californians to agree to tax increases they once rejected -- without reforms sought by five hardy GOP senators who have been meeting with Brown?
What happens if Brown's brinkmanship fails?
Brown told the Legislature that if voters reject his tax package, he will pass an all-cuts budget. Tactical error. Many conservatives responded: Go ahead, make my day.
As for Sacto Dems and unions, if voters reject Plan Brown, I doubt they'll share Brown's "loyalty to California." More likely, they will demand a debt-expanding cross-your-fingers-and-pray-for-a-recovery gimmicky scheme -- and they'll get it.
Arnold Schwarzenegger knows the downside of brinkmanship. He knows how Sacramento treats a governor once he's lost his ballot measures. And it's not pretty.
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