Brown to dole out harsh budget reality

January 3, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
In taking office, Gov. Jerry Brown is promising a tough budget to deal with tough times. Next week, we will learn how he plans to deal with it.

In the past, the governor and the Republican and Democratic leadership -- the so-called 'Big Five' -- would go behind closed doors and work out a budget deal. It was usually a deal that in a tough economy included budget tricks and borrowing, but on Monday, Brown said that was history.

On the campaign trail Brown promised no more smoke and mirrors budgeting, and recently he repeated the pledge.

"The budget I present next week will be painful, but it'll be an honest budget," said Brown.

Brown said expenditures will be matched with available revenues and it'll be up to Californians to make some tough decisions.

"What level of health and human services are you interested in supporting? What level of K to 12 or higher [education] services are you willing to support?" asked Fred Silva, a senior fiscal advisor from California Forward.

California Forward is a non-partisan, non-profit aimed at government reform. Silva said the governor's strategy depends on that dialogue with voters.

"And we need to go through that in the February, March, April, and May periods, so that once we get to June then citizens are now well aware," said Silva.

And that's critical because in June, Brown is expected to ask Californians to vote to extend a package of taxes that are due to expire this year. The tax extensions are worth $8 billion; without them cuts to services would be even deeper. And to get the tax extensions onto the ballot, the governor will need Republican lawmakers to go along.

"And that may be politically a very dangerous thing for them to do," said ABC7 political analyst Bruce Cain, Ph.D.

Cain says Republican lawmakers have pledged not to increase taxes and if they vote to put a tax extension on the ballot, they could face opposition from within their own party.

"So for Republicans to go along with this deal is to risk the possibility that conservative anti-tax types may take them out in the next election for betraying Republican principals," said Cain.

It is a very dicey budget process the governor is entering. First, he's got to get Democratic lawmakers to agree to cuts in service. Then, he has to convince Republicans to put the tax extensions on the ballot. And finally, he has to convince voters that you get what you pay for.

"And I think the Legislature and our constituents, people of California, are ready to embrace a good dose of honesty," says Mark Desaulnier, D-Concord.

The governor unveils his budget next Monday. As Betty Davis once warned, "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy ride."