When the results for Proposition 30 come in on Election Night,
California voters won't just have returned a verdict on whether
they support raising taxes to reduce the state's budget
deficit. They will also have handed Governor Jerry Brown a
victory or defeat on his signature policy issue. The outcome
- and Brown's reaction to it - could shape the rest of his time in
the governor's office.
Not Exactly Summer Lovin'...
Let's start with a flashback - to the year
John Travolta: "Summer lovin',
had me a blast…"
Olivia Newton-John: "Summer
lovin', happened so fast…"
The movie "Grease" came out … and a much younger California
Governor Jerry Brown faced a striking rebuke when voters approved
Proposition 13 in a landslide. Days later, the governor who
campaigned so strongly against Prop 13 vowed to heed the message
Californians sent to
Brown in 1978: "The message is
that property tax must be sharply curtailed and that government
spending - wherever it is - must be held in check. We must
look forward to lean and frugal budgets. It's a great
challenge and we will meet it."
And he did - implementing Prop 13 so thoroughly that the
measure's author, Howard Jarvis, endorsed the governor for
re-election later that year.
Similar Crossroads for Brown?
Nearly three-and-a-half decades later, Brown could soon find
himself at a similar crossroads. The governor is once again
is on the campaign trail over a statewide ballot
Brown at "Yes on 30" Rally: "I
want to pull my sign up in case anybody is watching. It's
Proposition 30. Please vote yes! Thank you…"
But many analysts give the measure at best a 50/50 chance of
passing. And just as taxpayers, schools and nearly every
stakeholder group in the state have much at stake with Prop 30, so
too does Jerry Brown - who, after all, has spent his entire return
to the governor's office building to this point.
If Prop 30 Passes...
Republican political consultant Rob Stutzman:
Stutzman: "If it
passes, it's a tremendous victory for the governor. He
acquires a lot of political capital - especially with a legislature
that has about 40 new members coming into the Assembly."
And Brown could use that capital to advance the rest of his
agenda - without quite so big a budget cloud hanging over
Sacramento. Here's his political advisor, Steve
Glazer: "There's so many other
things that he would like to put his time and attention
… like working on a new water system, for
Glazer: "But the foundation of
it all is to have a balanced budget and fiscal
If Prop 30 Fails...
On the other hand, says
Stutzman: "If the governor
doesn't win with Proposition 30, his political capital probably
…perhaps even leading to the two words every politician hates
Stutzman: "He could almost move
into a bit of an early lame duck status because he will have not
been able to persuade the public to stay with him on what he says
the solution is."
And not just voters. Last year, Brown tried to reach a
budget deal with Republicans but those talks fell through with each
side blaming the other. This year, it was Democrats who
wouldn't agree to some of the governor's proposed pension changes.
And Democratic consultant Steve Maviglio says Brown's job
wouldn't get any easier with Prop 30's
Maviglio: "As far as his
momentum if he loses, I think he's in a very difficult place.
Because he's only going to have to make more unpopular
Like whether to hold firm on $6 billion in automatic budget
cuts, or look for different cuts - or new revenues - instead.
Plus, it's likely he'd have to make even deeper cuts next
year. Still, Republican strategist Marty Wilson says don't
under-estimate what an experienced governor can
Wilson: "I've worked for two
governors - that's a very powerful office. I mean, he'll have
plenty of heft. And he knows how to use it."
Trigger Cuts Decision Could Be Key
Which is why we started this story with a look back at 1978
and the aftermath of Prop 13. The big question this year, if
Prop 30 fails, is whether Brown would embrace the will of the
voters or look for a way around them. In a recent interview
with Capital Public Radio, the governor made his position
Brown: "I will veto any bill
that attempts to undo the trigger cuts. We have to balance
Thanks largely to Brown's track record 34 years ago, the
consultants we spoke with for this story appear to believe
him. But if Prop 30 fails, he would face pressure from school
groups, teachers unions and lawmakers in both parties to find
alternatives to eliminating three weeks of classes.