Thursday afternoon, I got on a conference call with three of Meg Whitman's campaign advisors: Rob Stutzman, Richard Costigan and Darrel Ng. I've known each of them for years -- they are smart, principled, trustworthy people. But it was hard to believe what they were peddling on this call.
The Whitman advisors were making the case that Jerry Brown is likely to raise taxes, through ballot measures. On this point, the Whitman people had a point. Brown says he won't raise taxes without voter approval; when a politician tells you that, he's saying he's going to ask voters to raise taxes.
But then these advisors made the case that Whitman wouldn't raise taxes. She had pledged not to after all. And that pledge means... well... absolutely nothing.
It's a very safe bet that Whitman, if she were elected governor, would raise taxes. It's just logic and math. The state's budget problem is simply too big to be fixed with spending cuts, and the spending cuts Whitman has proposed won't fill the gap. And if estimates of pension and retiree health benefits for public employees are to be believed, the gap will get bigger. It's not hard to imagine Whitman taking her own tax increase proposals to the ballot for voter approval.
This kind of turnaround wouldn't be shocking. In fact, it's standard for Republican governors in California to campaign against tax increases -- and then increase taxes once they get into office. Ronald Reagan raised taxes. Pete Wilson, who is a co-chair of Whitman's campaign, raised taxes. And Arnold Schwarzenegger raised taxes -- as Stutzman, Costigan and Ng know very well. They each worked for Gov. Schwarzenegger. (To be fair, the tax increases came after each of them had left the governor's office).
But... But.... But. I'm sure the Whitman campaign emails are being composed, declaring that Whitman is different, that she has a "spine of steel," and won't back down from her no new taxes pledge. To that, I'd say: put your money where your mouth is.
So here's my proposal to anyone in the Whitman camp who is confident that I'm wrong and Whitman's pledge is credible: If Gov. Whitman raises taxes, any staff who wants to take the bet can pay me a percentage of whatever they made on the campaign. The percentage would be equal to whatever percent of the state budget is derived from the new taxes. So if she raises taxes by $5 billion (on a budget of roughly $100 billion), then I'd win 5 percent of the campaign aide's pay. If Whitman herself wants to make the bet, I'd accept a percentage of whatever consultant Mike Murphy makes.
If that's too rich for some aides, here's a lesser bet. $850. Which is what I've paid in additional state income taxes as a result of the Schwarzenegger tax increase that California voters and I were promised would not happen. That promise, after all, was conveyed to the public by some of the same people helping Whitman run her campaign.
I'll let you know if anyone takes me up on this offer. UPDATED: Tucker Bounds of the Whitman campaign reports that eight members of the Whitman operation -- Murphy, Stutzman, Costigan, Henry Gomez, Todd Cranney, Sarah Pompei, Dan Comstock, and Bounds himself -- have taken the $850 bet. A strong showing of confidence in their candidate. Clip and save this post.