Jerry v. Jerry: The Budget Showdown

The cornerstone of Governor Jerry Brown’s budget solution is to increase the very same taxes on income sales and cars that the voters rejected in 2009. Although fairly scored at $14 billion he claims that it is only a $12 billion tax increase. For purposes of this column let’s assume that he is correct — that his tax increases reflect “only” a $12 billion hit on taxpayers.

With this assumption it is revealing to compare his spending plan with that of one of his predecessors Jerry Brown.

When the first Jerry left office after eight years of putting his stamp on state government the 1982-83 general fund budget for which he was responsible amounted to $21.5 billion. The population of the state was just over 25 million and the per capita spending was approximately $856.

Using this model to keep up with inflation over the last 23 years the state today would spend about $1874 for each of our 38.7 million Californians.

So for taxpayers here is the $12 billion dollar tax question: If we take Brown’s last budget and adjust it for inflation and population growth how much would total spending be today. Some quick arithmetic on a calculator reveals that if we remained on the first Jerry Brown’s track the general fund budget for the coming fiscal year would be $72.5 billion. And how much is the second Jerry’s actual budget proposal? Why it is just over $84.6 billion which is about $12 billion — the same as Brown’s tax increase — more than needed to keep up with the growth of population and inflation.

So is the $12 billion tax increase that matches up with the $12 billion difference between the budget baseline of Jerry I and the proposed budget of Jerry II just an ironic coincidence? We at the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association don’t think so. The extra money provided by the tax increase is needed to guarantee that Brown’s allies the government employee unions to whom he and nearly two thirds of the Legislature owe their election continue to thrive. It takes plenty of cash to continue to support the most highly compensated public employees in all 50 states.

Some will argue that not all of the governor’s massive tax increase could possibly be for salaries and benefits for government workers. True. Some of the money is required to continue to support and expand programs that have been shown to be inefficient or that invite fraud like In-Home Supportive Services.

Originally intended to help older Californians remain in their homes while being cared for by relatives who are paid by the state IHSS has become another union controlled enterprise where care givers are compelled to pay union dues as state employees. It is clear why the unions oppose any effort to trim this program or root out abuse.

The government employee union bosses have no intention of giving up this and other bastions of dues paying members no matter the cost to taxpayers. In fact adding insult to injury the unions are now pressing to require those who receive state assistance as child care providers to become unionized as well.

Then there is the prison system for which Brown actually wants to increase funding while the state continues to spend nearly twice the national average to incarcerate each prisoner for a year. That California taxpayers are paying double what is needed to keep felons off the streets demonstrates the influence of the politically powerful prison guards union.

The government employee unions are fighting to perpetuate every state program at a high spending level and without modification or reform. They say it is to protect the recipients of state services but their real interest is the wellbeing of the providers of government services who are their members not those they are supposed to serve.

So when the current governor Brown asks your family to cough up another thousand dollars as part of his $12 billion dollar tax increase you may want to ask just what are we paying for?

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.