The trouble with half and half这一半与那一半之间的苦恼
The plan to fix California’s budget has run into problems 解决加州预算的方案陷入困境
JERRY BROWN was being forced to contemplate plans B and C to save his governorship as The Economist went to press. He was sworn in this year (for the third time, having last been governor in 1983) as California confronted yet another budget deficit considerably larger (at more than $25 billion) than the entire budget in most other states. And because California has already made painful cuts in recent years, Mr Brown wanted to solve roughly half of the problem by cutting spending and half by extending a collection of temporary increases in income, sales and car taxes. The idea was to get a deal by making Democrats and Republicans share equally in the political discomfort.
The first half has proved relatively easy. The legislature, controlled by Democrats and newly empowered by voters to pass budgets by a simple majority rather than one of two-thirds, has already adopted most of the necessary cuts, sparing only schools among the main spending items. Democrats made the sacrifice knowing that the alternative—an “all-cuts” budget—would double the pain.
It is the other half, the tax extensions, that is proving intractable. Mr Brown won his election in part by promising no new taxes without “a vote of the people”. So his plan, and his fate as governor, requires getting the tax extension onto the ballot.
He was hoping to do this in June, just before the start of the new fiscal year in July, when the temporary taxes are set to expire. That way the vote would still be about “extending” (rather than “raising”) taxes. In the latest polling, a majority of voters do, in fact, favour putting the decision on a ballot, although their support has been declining. More worrying, only 46% now say they would vote for the proposed tax extensions.
But if Republican legislators have their way, the voters will never make that decision. To put the vote on the ballot the traditional way, Mr Brown needs a supermajority (two-thirds) in the legislature. That means winning over at least two Republicans in each chamber. So Mr Brown has been negotiating with five who seemed amenable. These five apparently demanded huge cuts in public pensions and red tape, and a spending cap for future years. It might seem to be a Republican dream: a wish list of goodies that make the Democratic governor (backed by public-sector unions) squirm.
But then something odd occurred. California’s Republicans turned on the five. A party convention last weekend almost passed a resolution officially branding them “traitors”. Egged on by Grover Norquist and other tax-haters from Washington, many Republicans renewed their anti-tax “pledges”, which now seem to prohibit even a vote to let other people vote. Fearing for their careers, the five retreated.
This led to some hand-wringing within California’s Republican Party. Only 31% of voters are now registered Republican. In last November’s election, when Republicans triumphed elsewhere, all statewide offices in California went to Democrats. The state party’s new chairman warned the convention that the party now speaks only “to the converted”. And yet, the party ended the same convention by resolving to block Mr Brown’s plan wholesale, opposing even the cuts.
So Mr Brown’s bipartisan figleaf is blowing in the wind. It looks as though it will be too late now to get the tax extension onto the June ballot. Mr Brown could still use a legal loophole to force it on with a simple majority (ie, Democrats only), but that would look bad. He could also go the longer route and let other sponsors collect signatures to put the vote on a November ballot. But this would mean that California will enter its next fiscal year, once again, without any budget at all.