Sacramento Bee political columnist Dan Walters made his third appearance as a guest speaker at the Rancho Murieta Women's Club last week. Over the last decade, Walters has offered his takes on the governorships of Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. This time it was Jerry Brown's turn. Walters also revisited the state's budget woes.
A quick review of Brown's career -- "he's always running for something"-- was followed by Walters' assessment of the present Brown administration as a "do-over" or mulligan. "He left a lot of stuff there when he left the governorship in 1983," Walters said. "It's amazing truly how many of the things he's dealing with as governor the second time around were there when he left 28 years earlier" -- the unfinished water plan, the budget deficit, public education, the bullet train ("he talked about a bullet train 30 years ago").
Walters described his relationship with Brown as "prickly," and said Brown is "personally very stingy." Aside from being older, Brown hasn't changed, in Walters' view.
Thanks to actions following Proposition 13 in 1978, California runs at an operational deficit, Bee columnist Dan Walters told the Rancho Murieta Women's Club.
"(Brown) is basically betting his entire governorship, his entire legacy, as it were, on what happens this coming November. ... This measure is a tax issue ... intended to get the budget into shape." The income tax and sales tax increases are temporary taxes. "He wants to go out saying he balanced the budget during his governorship. It's very controversial. It's certainly not embraced strongly by voters, according to the polls that have come out in the last few weeks. ... What happens if it passes? Not much, really, because the whole budget that's law is based on the assumption that that tax increase will pass. What happens if it doesn't pass? ... Plan B is to basically to cut the hell out of schools. Cut spending by $6 billion a year, of which about $5 1/2 billion would come out of public education. This is by design to cajole or blackmail voters into voting for these taxes ... because public education is the most popular thing the government does in California. ... Funny thing is if it passes, the schools don't get any more money. ... All they get paid is the money that's been owed to them for some years by the state."
Prop. 13 fallout
"When the voters passed Prop. 13 in 1978, cutting local property taxes by more than half, the state stepped in, maybe foolishly, and assumed the burden of financing schools and, to some extent, local governments. At the time, the state had a reasonably sized surplus in its budget, so it spent that surplus on what was called 'the bail-out' ... As the state was assuming new burdens for schools and local governments ... (the legislature and then-Governor Brown) cut state taxes. And the effect of those two things was to throw the state budget into an immediate operational deficit."
"The state of California has taken on enormous amounts of debt ... most importantly, unfunded liabilities for public employee pensions and health care -- hundreds of billions of dollars that are not being addressed ... and so we are basically upside down as a state," which is reflected in the state's low credit rating. "The state can become functionally insolvent..." unless the budget deficit is controlled.
Taxes and spending
"We are highly taxed in California. We have a particularly high income tax already, we have a particularly high sales tax already. The only thing that prevents us from being the highest taxed state is our property tax. Thanks to Prop. 13, our property tax is in the middle range ... that drops us down from first to fifth place....
"What happened to all that money? ... There are certain things that are certainly out of whack. We've been spending in recent years for example about $10 billion a year on our prison system. ... That's about twice as much as we should be spending for the number of prisoners that we have locked up. ... Prison guards in California make exactly twice as much as they do in Texas ... We have 12 percent of the nation's population and 32 percent of its welfare cases. ... So there are certain things that are out of whack, but undoing those sorts of things is extremely difficult. ... We are among the lowest spending states per pupil on public education. ... The question is should we vote for more taxes or will that just continue a dysfunctional status quo?"
From the archives:
- Political columnist gives RM a taste of history as it's happening (July 24, 2003)
By his handling of the energy crisis, "(Gray Davis) shot himself in the head. It felt so good he did it again" with the budget crisis. Doing the "short-term expedient thing ... is almost a fatal flaw in his case." Walters portrayed the governor as "consumed with his own career ... obsessed with his health" and so incapable of change he has the same thing -- broccoli and turkey -- for lunch every day. "He has not evolved. ... He has not a scintilla of interest in anything other than his career."
- State has outgrown its government, Bee columnist tells Women's Club (March 27, 2008)
"If Arnold Schwarzenegger with his celebrity, his independence, his middle-of-the-road politics, his ability to capture media attention -- all the attributes he brings to the governorship that very few people have -- if he can't make it work ... if he can't move it, then you have to assume it can't be moved. ... The structure is fatally flawed."