Jerry, Arnold and Ghosts: Is Prop 1A Still Dead?

Remember Prop 1A? It was the first of the five budget-balancing ballot measures that failed in the May 2009 special election.
But is it still dead?

Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman has tried to revive the ghost of 1A -- as a weapon against her Democratic opponent Jerry Brown. Politically, this makes sense. Whitman opposed 1A –  putting her on the same side as the voters. Brown was for 1A. And the measure would have extended temporary tax increases (which expire in the middle of next year) for two additional years, into 2013). It also included a proposal for a rainy day fund.

Brown’s own budget strategy includes a rainy day fund and the possibility of asking voters to approve taxes. (Brown won’t raise taxes without voters going along, he promises). So he seems to be promising to revive 1A-style measures. But can the same approach work when it failed so recently?

Maybe. I was on the fence about 1A and wrote and spoke skeptically about it. So much so that Gov. Schwarzenegger pulled me aside at a Yes on 1A event and gave me a very forceful 15–minute case for 1A. It wasn’t perfect, he said, but it was the best system could produce. “You know how bad the budget system is – you know that better than anyone,” he told me (yes, smart politicians flatter journalists). “You need to write and write that this is the best we could do.”

I didn’t take his advice. I was too conflicted about 1A—I understood the difficulty of compromise, but didn’t like the idea of raising taxes in a recession. I also worried about the design of the rainy day fund.

The more time passes, though, the more I think Schwarzenegger was right. At the very least, it sure would be nice to have the money coming in next year from 1A's proposed extension of those extra temporary tax increases. Next year’s budget will be an even worse disaster than this year’s without them. The decision by many on the left, including many unions, to oppose 1A looks even more risky in hindsight. There’s no guarantee that they’ll ever get that money back.

So here’s an apology to the governor. And a resolution to be more open to 1A-style measures if and when they appear on future ballots.

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