It’s been a bad election year at the polls for most Democrats, but out in the home of Proposition 13, Jerry Brown managed to win his fourth term as California governor. How does he shine on so brightly while other bright lights have dimmed? California and Jerry Brown are both unique, but one thing worth copying err, emulating stands out. And there is a hint in the title of a recent article: How Jerry Brown Got Californians to Raise Their Taxes and Save Their State
Brown took an enormous risk in 2012: he bet that Californians were so tired of cuts and dysfunction that they would vote for a big tax increase. Brown bet right, securing overwhelming support for tax hikes on the rich—including a 29 percent increase for Californians with taxable income over $1 million – and a slight increase in the sales tax.
It took courage on Brown’s part and California’s legislative leaders. California experienced a rare moment when collective desperation pushes political self interest aside just enough for elected leaders to do the right thing.
So it is fairly disheartening for us to consider what California accomplished in the same week that here in Vermont the Senate Minority Leader, Republican Joe Benning, made himself some headlines by shouting from the roof tops that due to budget shortfalls Vermont would need to raise taxes, acknowledging that the legislature cannot make enough cuts to fix the budget without inflicting real damage. Then, after hardly pausing for a breath, he ruled out voting for those increases, even though he sees no alternative solution. And soon enough, although he hasn’t ruled out a tax increase, a politically weakened Governor Shumlin (if Scott Milne isn’t elected!) seems likely to re-up his no-tax-increase-on-high-earners promise.
The thing is, what Brown did in California also happened here in Vermont. Once upon a time Governor Richard Snelling (R) enlisted the help of Democrats in the legislature, and with combined budget cuts and temporay revenue increases (taxes), helped the state out of a budget crisis. But that was 1991, and we all know that was long, long ago, so long in fact I think VPR’s Bob Kinzel spoke of it in almost hushed, reverent tones in 2008:
Snelling did something that's become one of the most talked about events in modern legislative history. Unannounced, he walked over to the office of House Speaker Ralph Wright and requested a brief meeting to ask for Wright's help in drafting a package of budget cuts and tax increases to erase the deficit.
Hmmm, one of the most talked about events in modern legislative history? Well, not so much this week, so far at least.