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California Budget Smackdown: Part 2

GOP wrestles against letting voters decide Jerry Brown's tax plan.

In our previous episode, Laguna Niguel's Republican tag team offered several reasons for not letting voters take a crack at Jerry Brown's tax plan. Topping the list: Californians rejected a similar tax scheme two years ago. "Voters have already spoken," the legislators crowed.

But then a curious thing happened.

On Thursday, state Republicans floated their own blueprint for erasing California's $15-billion deficit. Instead of raising taxes, they proposed, among other things, a ballot measure that would authorize hijacking $2.3 billion earmarked for mental health and early childhood programs.

Ironically, as the L.A. Times pointed out, voters have already spoken on that idea too. In the same 2009 election in which they torpedoed new taxes, voters also vetoed raiding the mental health and childhood programs to balance the budget.

Democrats contend the GOP budget plan, which relies partly on rosy tax projections and accounting gimmicks, is a short-term fix. On Monday, Brown will release his own budget proposal, and continue pressing for a special election to let voters decide whether to temporarily continue a set of tax hikes enacted two years ago.

Although polls show voters want Brown's plan on the ballot, Republicans object to letting Californians weigh in. Picking up where our last story left off, state Sen. Mimi Walters and Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, who represent Laguna Niguel, offer more rationales for not giving voters final say on Brown's proposal.

Reason No. 3: Cut First, Ask Questions Later

Before asking voters to jack up taxes, state officials should first manage state money better, Republicans say. "Get rid of the fraud and waste, and we wouldn't have to cut the programs that we're having to cut," Walters said. California could also save a bundle by outsourcing state jobs to private companies, she suggested.

In the GOP budget released Thursday, Republicans called for a 10 percent cut in state employee costs, furlough days for court workers and outsourcing inmate medical care and some child-support and state hospital services. Total savings: $1.8 billion.

Patch analysis: Fraud and waste are neverending problems, although experts disagree on how much money is lost. On the high end, a recent report by the California Taxpayers Association, a business-oriented nonprofit, estimated about $1.6 billion a year was squandered over the last decade. One item not mentioned in the report was the $768,000 that legislators who wrecked their state-issued cars charged taxpayers in recent years.

Sen. Walters, for example, a former investment banker reportedly worth millions, billed the state $1,475 after she backed her state car into her personal car in 2007, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Walters also flip-flopped on a $12,000 pay hike given to lawmakers in 2005. After initially turning down the raise, she quietly asked for it once the publicity died down, according to the Bee.

As for outsourcing, scores of financially strapped cities and counties around the nation are experimenting with it to reduce costs. California has outsourced state jobs on a limited basis, as has Texas, with mixed success and considerable controversy. Gov. Brown didn't respond to our interview requests, but he recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that Republicans could have made headway on this issue in negotiations to get his tax plan on the ballot.  

Reason No. 4: Fixing the Deficit is Sacramento's Job

Harkey: "Why should the governor and the Legislature abdicate their responsibility to yet another special election? ... If representatives in the Legislature want to raise taxes or balance the budget by any other means, they may vote to do so. The voters decided when they elected their representatives that those hired for the job should be up to the task.  So far, it would appear, they have not."

Walters: "The voters of California have elected us to take care of the issues in Sacramento."

Analysis: In theory, it is indeed Sacramento's job to balance the budget. But in reality, under both Republican and Democratic governors, state officials have spent years dodging a day of reckoning. Perhaps that helps explain why just 19 percent of registered voters approve the Legislature's job performance. And that brings us back to our original question: Who should decide Brown's tax plan--politicians or voters?

Do-It-Yourself Budget Chopper

Think you could deep-six California's deficit? Try your luck with the interactive budget balancers created by the Sacramento Bee or L.A. Times. But beware the fine print: Not every program you might like to cut can be touched.

-- Debbie Tharp contributed to this article.


Larry May 13, 2011 at 05:01 PM
Extending the sales tax increase (they try to make it look like it was only 1% increase, but it was actually a 13% increase over what we were paying before) is like giving heroine to a drug addict. Our lawmaker's are great at spending other people's money and voting themselves and public employee unions nice raises and benefit packages, but they show no real budgetary responsibility. That's why CA is in the mess it's in.
PC May 17, 2011 at 12:12 AM
Why Cali is broke... THE COYOTE California: The Governor of California is jogging with his dog along a nature trail. A coyote jumps out and attacks the Governor's dog, then bites the Governor. 1. The Governor starts to intervene, but reflects upon the movie "Bambi" and then realizes he should stop because the coyote is only doing what is natural. 2. He calls animal control . Animal Control captures the coyote and bills the State $200 testing it for diseases and $500 for relocating it. 3. He calls a veterinarian. The vet collects the dead dog and bills the State $200 testing it for diseases. 4. The Governor goes to hospital and spends $3,500 getting checked for diseases from the coyote and on getting his bite wound bandaged. 5. The running trail gets shut down for 6 months while Fish & Game conducts a $100,000 survey to make sure the area is now free of dangerous animals. 6. The Governor spends $50,000 in state funds implementing a "coyote awareness program" for residents of the area. 7. The State Legislature spends $2 million to study how to better treat rabies and how to permanently eradicate the disease throughout the world. 8. The Governor's security agent is fired for not stopping the attack. The State spends $150,000 to hire and train a new agent with additional special training re: the nature of coyotes. 9. PETA protests the coyote's relocation and files a $5 million suit against the State. Continued...
PC May 17, 2011 at 12:12 AM
Why Cali is Broke Part II THE COYOTE TEXAS: The Governor of Texas is jogging with his dog along a nature trail. A Coyote jumps out and attacks his dog. 1. The Governor shoots the coyote with his State-issued pistol and keeps jogging. The Governor has spent $0.50 on a .45 ACP hollow point cartridge. 2. The Buzzards eat the dead coyote. And that, my friends, is why California is broke and Texas is not

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