Local Governments’ Revenge on Brown?


Local governments are still smarting from Gov. Jerry Brown's successful push to eliminate redevelopment agencies. This was good policy -- redevelopment money wasn't well spent and the money should go to schools, but it was cash that local governments depended upon to cover many of their expenses.

This November provides an opportunity for municipal revenge.

Many cities, now with less cash and some financial desperation, are declaring fiscal emergencies so they can quickly put tax measures on the local ballot. This makes a certain amount of sense, but it's also an enormous political problem -- for Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown has staked his governorship on a temporary tax ballot initiative on the November ballot. He's also devoted a lot of energy to putting his measure in a favorable place on the ballot -- and to neutralizing competition from other tax measures.

But the cities, by adding their own tax measures, are creating more competition -- and problems for his measure. Many of the cities are seeking sales tax hikes -- just like Brown, who has a temporary, quarter-cent sales tax hike in his measure. Will voters be willing to vote both for Brown's state sales tax hike and local ones? Logic suggests that Brown's case would be easier to make if he doesn't have competition.

Of course, if cities get revenge by helping defeat Brown's initiative, that revenge won't be sweet. That's because Brown's measure has a new constitutional guarantee of certain revenue streams for local governments. If the governor's initiative goes down, the locals won't have that protection.

This predicament is another of California's current political reality. There are plenty of political losers on the stage. But it's hard to spot a winner.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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