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Let Voters Decide on Pensions, Spending

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

In Sacramento, the knee-jerk response to any crisis is to blame the Republicans. But if Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders can't cut a deal to win the two GOP votes in the Assembly and two in the Senate needed to qualify Brown's tax-increase extension for the June ballot, Democrats must take their share of responsibility for fudging a deal.

First, there's the original sin: Brown's decision to stake his budget package on a do-over ballot measure that voters rejected by a 2-1 margin in 2009. Brown knew when he plotted this strategy that it would be career suicide for Republicans to vote for the sort of tax increases that he himself dared not advocate when he ran for governor.

Now the Dems have to give the GOP something in return.

I believe Republicans should hang their heads in shame for failing to terminate redevelopment agencies and funnel $1.7 billion into vital services.

I also believe Republicans should provide the four votes needed to get Brown's measure -- which would extend the "temporary" 2009 income taxes, sales taxes and car fees for five years -- on the ballot. In recent elections, voters have sent too many muddled messages. The Brown measure would force voters to take a stand for or against today's level of spending.

On Friday, Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton released a point-by-point list detailing what his caucus has sought in return for some yes votes. Brown spokesman Gil Duran countered, "It splashes over the border of what's possible" -- as he criticized the GOP list as being too long.

Well, it was too long -- see provisions to restore county-fair funding and to move the primary to March. And then it wasn't too long -- some items actually were details on pension reform, like details in the Brown campaign platform on pension reform.

The GOP list also claimed that Brown supported some items -- capping pensions at $106,000 -- and rejected others -- increasing cost-sharing for health and pension benefits.

Some Republicans argue that Brown is so beholden to public-employee unions for supporting his candidacy that he cannot say no to them. The governor has yet to prove them wrong.

In this, Brown does no service to the left. As San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi has argued, the more municipalities pay into pension systems, the less cash they have for social services liberals support.

Also, younger workers pay a penalty when cities lay them off in order to pay benefits for retired city workers.

Republicans tell me that Brown won't give at all on the idea of putting pension reform and a solid spending cap on the ballot. The Brownies counter that the GOP can't focus.

They should talk. The latest PPIC poll found that while 54 percent of likely voters supported Brown's plan in January, support now has slid to 46 percent. Brown has to convince voters he'll be tough with labor, too.

After Brown signed the painful spending-cuts part of his budget last week, he said, "I find it shocking that elected representatives can so cavalierly say to the people, 'Shut up, you have no right to weigh in on this.'"

The same goes for a pension reform and spending cap: What's wrong with letting the voters decide?

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