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.