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A broken budgeting process

Brown is backing off his promise to let voters decide on taxes; the GOP is relying on fantasy fixes.

May 17, 2011

Who is more dishonest: Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who as a candidate promised that he wouldn't raise taxes without a public vote but submitted a budget proposal Monday that calls for tax hikes without voters' approval, or Republican lawmakers, whose own proposal to balance the budget without increasing taxes relies on fantasy accounting and illusory savings? It's a tough call, but we're going with the GOP.

Brown's revised budget projected that the state would take in $6.6 billion more in tax revenue than previously thought. It diverts a little less than half of that windfall to schools, using the rest to scale back Brown's proposed tax increases and continue providing tax credits to businesses that hire workers from blighted neighborhoods, among other things. But the governor is asking the Legislature to sign off on an extension of previously approved tax hikes that were supposed to expire this year, even though as a candidate he said he'd do no such thing without an OK from voters.

Brown should have known better than to make a foolish campaign promise that would tie his hands during budget negotiations. Now he has little choice but to violate it, because he couldn't get a single Republican to agree to his plan to put the tax extensions on the June ballot.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, May 21, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 18 Editorial Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Budget: A May 17 editorial about Gov. Jerry Brown's revised budget proposal said he's now calling for "tax hikes without voters' approval." Although Brown has proposed that the tax hikes go into effect without the prior approval of voters, he hopes to hold a referendum on them after the fact.

On balance, a politician who breaks a wrongheaded campaign promise to do what's right for the state seems more forgivable than those who stick to their rigid no-tax principles to hold on to their jobs. That describes GOP members of the Assembly and Senate, whose own proposal to eliminate the $15.4-billion deficit is based on smoke and mirrors -- and on spending cuts alone, with no help from tax hikes. To do that, Republicans have proposed cuts ranging from the impractical to the impossible, while slashing public services for the state's neediest. Among other things, the Republican plan calls for shifting $2.4 billion from mental health and early childhood development programs to pay for other needs (which would probably require voters' approval and which voters rejected two years ago), and saving an additional $400 million by transferring prison medical care to the University of California or a private operator (a complex scheme that may be unfeasible and would take more than a year to pull off).

After GOP lawmakers refused even to put tax extensions on the ballot, it's hard to picture them approving Brown's tax plans. The likely result: another stalemate, another late budget, and another humiliating and fiscally dangerous failure by California's elected leaders.

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