Untangling the Mess of a Costly Ultimatum

But these are just numbers, and it is difficult to see past the -illions. Let me put it more concretely: If California voters don’t vote in this tax increase, then the public school year could be shortened by a full month. 

Let’s put aside the fact that California public schools have suffered terrible budget cuts recently, especially after Brown’s 2011-12 budget fiasco. And let’s also put aside the fact that due to this budget fiasco, the school system was forced to swallow a $330 million in cuts with the crucial effect of losing state funding for school bus services. Instead, let’s take a look at the other side — the tax increase.

Brown is betting on the fact that his $94 billion budget will balance itself once voters approve billions of dollars in tax hikes in November. It’s a budget gimmick at its very best, a prediction that billions of dollars of excess revenue will emerge out of the cracks of the American wallet and fix the budget. In short, he is crossing his fingers and hoping that voters care enough about public schools to forgo personal wants and needs. 

And now, reports are emerging that Brown’s projected tax increase is an over-exaggeration — a $1.5 billion over-exaggeration.  According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office and the Los Angeles Times, Brown’s initiative would generate only $5.5 billion, a far cry from his projected $6.9 billion intake. He is too liberal, it seems, in his estimated tax intake from top-income earners. 

This column isn’t a rant against politics. It’s a rant against cheap tricks and risky ultimatums — the result of bad politics. There is no quick-fix solution to this mess of a political issue, but Brown need not be married to the idea of this tax increase for the sake of a tax increase. Other options, pursued by more economically successful states like New York, center on tax codes designed to promote economic growth. It’s a plan that has been promoted by the state commission a couple years ago — a new one is in the works right now. It’s time to listen up.

So in summary: California’s 2012-13 budget is not balanced. It is far from balanced. Gov. Jerry Brown hopes that voters will vote in a several billion-dollar tax increase, because without it, the budget will stay unbalanced. And to do so, he is threatening to make even greater budget cuts to an already struggling public school system. Schools will lose valuable teachers, maintenance staff, school buses and possibly even a full month of the school year. 

I miss free food.

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