Thursday, February 17, 2011




Gov. Jerry Brown now wants to put a single budget-balancing proposition before voters in a June special election to “let the people decide” how to solve the state’s persistent financial problems.

If an election comes off involving that plan or some amended version, voters would be opting either for a compromise solution with both budget cuts and a tax extension (a yes vote) or a cuts-only version (a no vote), but they would not have the option of keeping all state programs virtually intact by authorizing a new tax or two,

Why not offer voters all three choices? Way back in September, while still a candidate, Brown foresaw the very problems now facing his budget plan and the possible special election.

“If we can’t get an agreement,” he said in an interview then, “we might just put all the choices before the people. I might ask the Republicans in the Legislature to present a budget proposal and the Democrats to put forward their plan and then we’d have my ideas.”

He knew any plan he offered with either a tax increase or an extension of several present levies that are due to expire soon would face solid Republican opposition that could prevent him from staging the vote this spring or force him to use convoluted legal tactics to do it, thus setting up his ideas as purely partisan.

That’s exactly what’s happening now.

Republicans in the Legislature are adamant they will not only refuse to vote for Brown’s proposed tax extension, but will also try to block a special election of any kind, even though an election would give voters a chance to establish that their party’s absolutist no-new-taxes stance is the majority’s real preference.

“The simple answer is no,” said state Senate Republican leader Robert Dutton. “Holding special elections is not what the people elected me to do. As for three propositions, there is no way possible to put a complicated thing like that on the ballot (by June) and dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.”

In short, even though voting for a three-proposition special election would not violate the no-new-taxes pledge he and most of his party cohorts have taken, Dutton doesn’t want a popular vote on the issue.

“Now, if you want a proposition to disband the Legislature because it’s completely ineffective doing its job, I’m all for it,” Dutton chuckled. “You give me a solution that actually solves the budget problem and encourages economic recovery and job growth and brings spending under control and I’ll go for it.”

Dutton doesn’t come right out and say he wouldn’t work on a Republican version of the budget, but that idea is implicit in his comments.

So why doesn’t Brown try to just push ahead with the three-fer idea he floated last fall? Leading Brown advisor and former campaign manager Steve Glazer says the governor isn’t quite ready for that.

“We’ve already proposed a downsizing of government that is unprecedented in the career of any Republican in Sacramento,” he said. “It does a lot of what they say they want. So we think we’ve already got a compromise plan that accommodates the feelings of all the major players. And so far, we think we’ve only seen the Republicans’ opening hand in negotiating.”

That’s why, he said, the three-proposition idea isn’t yet openly on the table. Would Brown go to it if his plan were essentially frozen by the GOP, which can’t block the majority vote now needed to pass a budget, but could prevent the two-thirds majority usually needed to call a tax-approving special election?

“We won’t deal with a hypothetical like that,” Glazer said.

But a three-proposition budget election (yes, it would technically be five, including two unrelated initiatives that have already qualified for the next statewide vote) would give voters a clear choice, which is what Republicans often say they want. If all three should somehow pass, the one with the most votes would be the only one to become law.

The bottom line: It’s hard to understand why anyone would oppose a an election that would confront voters with specific choices between losing or truncating programs they like and opting to pay more for them. That’s why, if Republicans won’t go along, you can expect Brown to roll the dice and go for a vote without their consent on either one or three propositions.

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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