Sunday, December 26, 2010





Walter Mondale was the last major politician who told Americans they would need to pay higher taxes if they wanted the government to keep doing everything it does for them. The 1984 Democratic presidential nominee was swamped in that year’s election. Mondale’s honeymoon after winning his party’s nomination lasted about 30 seconds after he gave that warning in his acceptance speech in San Francisco.

Jerry Brown’s honeymoon in his second Sacramento coming has already lasted two months longer than that. But it will end abruptly on Jan. 10, when he’s due to present his proposed budget, or even sooner if he tells anyone what will be in that document. Of that, Brown is certain. His honeymoon will end for the same reason Mondale’s did: Brown is about to tell Californians they will need to pay more for services they already have.

Brown even jokes wryly about this.After basking for a few moments in the applause of a roomful of school superintendents and teachers union officials during a budget briefing for educators the other day, he wryly noted that “I don’t think we’ll be hearing much of that after Jan. 10.”

Added his advisor and fall campaign manager Steve Glazer, “There will be people screaming on every street corner.”

For Brown intends to resolve the state’s entire $28 billion deficit in his first budget. He doesn’t want to have to deal with it every year he’s in office, he said.

“If it were me, I’d just cut 25 percent across the board,” allowed state Treasurer Bill Lockyer during the same meeting.

Brown won’t do anything quite like that. He’ll try to prioritize, he indicated, but there likely will be no exempt state-funded department or program. Because 71 per of California’s general fund budget goes to what the state Finance Department loosely calls “local services,” every community or institution getting state money will be hit.

That includes prisons, courts, health care and Medi-Cal, public education from kindergarten through graduate school, care for the elderly and infirm, parks and everything else except debt service. The state will keep paying principal and interest on all its bonds.

The post-Jan. 10 screamers will surely include some of Brown’s leading campaign donors. One major contributor was the California Teachers Assn., the state’s leading teachers union. Union president David Sanchez moaned during Brown’s session that “Last year, over 50 percent of the budget cuts affected schools. If you cut more, there’s the possibility of closing down schools. No one wants a teacher’s career anymore due to the possibility of being laid off within a year or two.”

Brown’s response to this whine from a consistent big-money backer of Democratic candidates? “Our dilemma is that 60 percent of the people don’t want their schools cut, or fire or police,” he said. “But 60 percent also don’t want new taxes. That’s a problem.” It was certainly no reassurance to either the CTA or others in the crowd of educators, many of whom also supported Brown.

Brown didn't cast blame directly on anyone for the huge deficit, but it was obvious he feels his two most recent predecessors had a hand in creating the deficit.

“Over the last 10 years, lots of techniques were used to kick the can down the road,” he said. “Those are gone. Now it’s all a matter of what do we absolutely need, what can we not do without? There’s been some sense that we could solve it all out of waste, and yes, there is some waste and duplication in government. But the waste is not of this magnitude.”

So Brown will start his cutting “where I’ll go to work every day,” promising to trim spending and payroll for his own office by 25 percent immediately.

He implied that new taxes should be at least part of the answer, but only if the voters go along. One near certainty: After he’s shown Californians the austere future they might face, he’ll call a special election where they can ease some cutbacks by approving new taxes.

If voters statewide won’t do that – and they refused as recently as 18 months ago – then it will be up to localities. “Cities and school districts will probably try to pass taxes of their own to make up for what’s lost,” he said. “That means some places will have a higher level of services than others.”

This is already true, as a few dozen cities like Beverly Hills and Palm Springs kick money in to their public schools every year, while many others don’t.

All of which translates to a bittersweet January for Brown, who will likely get plenty of applause at his unpretentious inauguration, but then face loud protests from past supporters and opponents alike the moment they see his financial plan.

It will be no picnic, but Brown never expected it to be. “The new governor should not have a coronation; he should get condolences,” he said just after announcing his candidacy.” How right he was.


Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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