By Jim Miller
As I noted in my New Year’s column, many in California’s labor and progressive circles had high hopes for ballot measures extending Proposition 30’s taxes on the rich to fully fund education and for raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. But it did not take long for Governor Jerry Brown to rain on his presumed allies’ parade.
With regard to the Proposition 30 extension, the fear had been that competing measures being pushed by warring camps in SEIU and their allies in labor and the health care industry might both make the ballot and sink each other. Then a compromise measure was proposed that would continue the Prop. 30 taxes on the rich while letting the sales taxes expire with the new revenue funding education and health care for the poor AND keeping the measure temporary—through 2030 in this case.
Thinking they had averted political catastrophe and appeased the perceived desires of the Governor, progressives’ hope was that Californians might avoid letting Proposition 30 expire which would have meant quickly heading back to the bad old days of cuts and layoffs in California schools. This is vital because, despite the good news of late, all that the revenue from Proposition 30 has allowed California schools and colleges to do is stop the bleeding—not restore what was cut during the years of the Great Recession and perpetual budget crisis.
Enter the oracle Jerry Brown.
While introducing this year’s extremely robust budget—a budget that got healthy largely because of Proposition 30’s temporary taxes on high earners paired with a sales tax—Brown chided the compromise measure that unified competing plans into one measure for containing “a fatal flaw.” That flaw, according to Brown, was that the extension measure exempted new revenues from being included in California’s rainy day fund.
Fearing opposition from Brown, the proponents of the measure to extend Proposition 30 quickly revised it to ensure that revenue would go to the rainy day fund, a move the Governor responded to with this: “It certainly removes the fatal flaw, and I think that’s a very positive development . . . I think I’ve said enough for this morning.”
So, as of this writing the oracle Jerry Brown has turned from what the LA Times called “sour” to “very positive” according to the Sacramento Bee. California awaits the final word on whether the Governor will support sustaining the positive momentum that 30 created or let us fall back into the mess we were in beforehand.
Given Jerry’s coy approach, it appears that advocates of education funding will just have to hold their breath and wait for the final answer. Progressives might reasonably argue that what is needed is a permanent, systemic revenue fix that does not just stop cuts, but actually deals with the educational and social service needs of the 21st Century, but that’s not what you get when you hitch your wagon to Jerry Brown.
As for the fate of a possible measure to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, the Governor had this to say: “These are all good things. The government does not consciously do bad things. But too many goods too quickly becomes bad . . . [in times of recession] you’ll find jobs have got to be cut, particularly in lower-income areas … like the Central Valley.”
It’s hard see how any revision to the call for $15 an hour is possible, and it is unlikely that the movement will want to change its name to the Fight for $14 or $13 any time soon, but I suspect that Brown’s opposition to this might not be enough to sink it, given its widespread popularity.
Nonetheless, it appears that, once again, it is the fate of California progressives to wait and see how the quixotic Governor rolls on this and what he might do with regard to climate change policy and a host of other key issues.
Hang on to your Magic 8-Balls.