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Sacramento -- Can Jerry Brown Do It?

A Commentary By Debra J. Saunders

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

As he was sworn in as governor at Sacramento's Memorial Auditorium on Monday "with no mental reservations," Brown gave Californians reason to be optimistic that he might succeed where predecessors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger failed. In the face of a $28 billion shortfall, Brown's team is floating savvy cuts in California government. 

And reason to be pessimistic: Brown talked up "sensible and bold" regulation, when state employers really want to hear that Sacramento will bring them regulatory relief so that they can start hiring again. 

Worst of all, Brown doesn't seem to recognize that California voters are dangerously schizophrenic. Seven years after they recalled then-Gov. Davis, they continue to elect and re-elect spend-happy Dems, while rejecting general tax increases and, to make matters worse, passing ballot measures that make California all that much harder to govern without raising taxes. 

So what does Brown promise? Like the former Republican governor, Brown promised "no new taxes unless the people vote for them." 

Which is odd because Brown's team is floating the idea of extending the very tax increases that Schwarzenegger signed, but voters overwhelmingly rejected when they voted down Proposition 1A in 2009 by a 2-to-1 vote. 

"It's like getting Arnold Schwarzenegger all over again," GOP operative Matt Ross complained. Brown's aides haven't released a budget yet, but they're leaking proposals to maintain the Schwarzenegger tax increases, raid funds … la Arnold that are supposed to go to early childhood education and mental health, and include severe cuts that probably won't remain on the table. 

"There's nothing new being proposed," Ross complained. "I feel like I'm listening to the Who. 'Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.'" 

I disagree. Brown seems poised to take spending cuts to the next level, and not just by cutting his own budget by a quarter. 

Under Schwarzenegger, Sacramento reappropriated some $1.7 billion in redevelopment funds last year. Now Brown apparently wants to eliminate redevelopment altogether -- saving the state as much as $6 billion. 

As Oakland mayor, Brown was big on redevelopment. Killing this money drain would be, as former Democratic lawmaker Phil Isenberg put it, "major." 

"I think Jerry's on the right track," GOP Assemblyman Chris Norby of Fullerton told me. As Norby sees it, redevelopment is "a play thing for developers, really a form of corporate welfare." This is an area where Brown can expect Republican support. 

Problem: Proposition 22 bans Sacramento from dipping into specialized money pots, and voters approved Proposition 22 in November. 

"The budget I present next week will be painful, but it will be an honest budget," Brown pledged Monday. 

Does he honestly believe he can sell the public on tax increases they've already rejected? If he pushes spending cuts, does he honestly believe that Democrats won't undermine him, as they undermined Davis? 

Or is he just throwing out sham proposals in the hope that the economy will rebound and save him? That was at the heart of Meg Whitman's secret plan, too. 

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