How Jerry Brown got us here


Jerry Roberts, who has long been among the best political reporters in California, has a nice, detailed piece on CalBuzz about Jerry Brown's history and legacy -- and how California got into the mess that the Guv is trying to get us out of. (It's a nice complement to this Chron interview, in which Ol' Jer takes us back to his seminary days and tells us how much he loves austerity: "I took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. I am ready, OK?"

Jesus, Guv -- we all know you're cheap, but "obedience" really isn't part of your personality. And chastity? For real?

But let's get back to austerity. Brown is clearly hanging his governorship on Prop. 30, his tax measure, and is happily warning us all that things will really, really suck if it doesn't pass. Roberts does a good job explaining how Prop. 13 -- which a much-younger Jerry opposed before he supported it -- laid the groundwork for the state's endless budget mess be capping local property taxes and giving the state Legislature control over how much money flows to cities and counties.

The one missing element: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The state budget was never simple, and California schools in particular never recovered from Prop. 13, but Schwarzenegger instantly made things much worse the day he took office in 2003 when he terminated much of the Vehicle License Fee, costing state and local government about $4 billion a year. Schwarzenegger derided the fee as a "car tax," but it's actually a fee that keeps counties from assessing cars as personal property. Either way, that's a huge chunk of money, and while it was popular, it played into the idea that we can have something for nothing -- similar to the Bush tax cuts.

So I guess all we can do is quote Jerry:

There is a lot of magical thinking in Washington and in Sacramento and, maybe, I might even say, Western civilization," he said. "We had it easy and now the moment of truth is upon us. ... We've got to pay for what we want. And if we don't want to pay, then we have to deprive ourselves of that which we would like, and it's very hard to get people to make that choice."