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Tax or Spend? The Final Chapter

A Commentary By Debra J. Saunders

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

I am reluctant to join the chorus of scolds who chide Republicans for opposing Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to put a tax-increase extension on a special election ballot in June.

But I will join the chorus, though first I must point out that GOP Assembly members and senators didn't spend California to the brink of ruin. The Democrats and nominally Republican former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger share that honor.

I also am reluctant to blame the GOP because I believe that the necessary two GOP votes from both the Assembly and Senate will materialize.

A few brave Repubs will defy the zealots. On their website, radio talk-show hosts John and Ken put Republican "heads on a stick" for those who failed to join the "Taxpayers Caucus," which opposes voting on tax increases. Someone has to stand up to the intimidation. Likewise the bullying of the Washington, D.C.-based tax-pledge tyrant Grover Norquist.

The truly conservative move is to negotiate concessions -- preferably pension reform or a spending cap -- because it's time to settle the tax-versus-cuts argument once and for all.

Yes, 65 percent of Californians rejected a similar tax-increase measure (Proposition 1A, which would have extended increases in the vehicle license fee, sales and income taxes) in 2009. But that was in the consequences-lite Schwarzenegger years, when a failure to raise taxes did not necessarily result in spending cuts.

Now the consequences are clear. The new governor brought welcome clarity to the issue last week when he told a joint legislative budget committee that if voters reject his tax proposal, he will only sign an "all-cuts budget."

The anti-taxers should be jumping for joy. If Californians reject the Son of Proposition 1A, then there will be no question that voters truly want Sacramento to cut spending.

What is more, the minute a tax measure qualifies for the ballot, the Democrats will be on the hot seat.

As Jann Taber, spokeswoman for GOP Senate Leader Bob Dutton, noted, what Brown and company call a half-cut-half-tax solution to a $26 billion budget hole doesn't really represent a 50-50 split.

Brown's proposed tax increase is actually $14 billion, while his cuts are closer to $8 billion, after accounting for funds shifted among money pots. What's more, Democrats rescinded some of Brown's Medi-Cal and senior-care funding cuts without finding a way to pay for these services.

Speaking for his Taxpayer Caucus, state Sen. Tony Strickland observed, "Everyone criticizes Republicans for not standing for something, but when we start standing for something, they complain."

Bully for the purists -- too bad they make such a mess. For years, Republicans stuck to their anti-tax principles, Democrats stuck to their big-spending ideals, and the product was red ink.

Worse, taxpayers found out that they could vote for more spending without paying for it. More red ink.

Brown has told Californians that if they want this level of government, then they have to pay for it: "I think we have to meet the moment of truth now."

Truth is: (a) He needs to give Republicans something in exchange for having their heads put on sticks. (b) Voters aren't likely to vote for his tax package without real reforms. And without real reform, failure is more than an option.


See Other Political Commentary

See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders

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