A new tax that will get a hang-up from legislators

By Joel Fox | Why is a savvy politician like Jerry Brown proposing a new tax increase with only one month to go in the legislative session of an election year? Such a strategy goes against conventional wisdom because legislators up for election don’t want to defend a new tax increase. Yet, Brown argues that the 911 emergency system desperately needs an upgrade and he proposes a tax increase to achieve it.

Joel FoxThe tax increase requires a two-thirds vote and that mark will be difficult to achieve given that Democrats do not hold two-thirds of the state senate and the recall of Sen. Josh Newman over his gas tax increase vote is fresh in the politicians’ minds.

Brown is counting on Republicans’ general concern for public safety to secure some votes from the GOP since improving the 911 system and bringing the technology to modern standards is a safety issue.

In fact, California Department of Finance spokesman H. D. Palmer made that point on the 911 emergency system, “This falls into a fundamental purpose of government, which is protecting public safety.”

Then why not take the money needed to improve the system from the state’s basic revenue pot, the General Fund, which is bursting with a $9 billion surplus? Brown’s plan calls for a $175 million investment, easily covered by the surplus. If public safety is a fundamental purpose of government then money should be prioritized out of the General Fund every year even to the exclusion of other programs. A priority purpose of government doesn’t need a special fund to support it.

Brown will argue that a fee pays for the current emergency system and that the method he proposes is just changing how the fee works—and doubling the revenue from the fee. Few will disagree with the governor that the emergency system is outdated. He’ll argue that the system is in desperate need of modernizing.

The same could be said about the state’s spending and budgeting and this would be a good place to take a stand to make that point. An issue can also be raised why this fundamental safety concern hasn’t been properly maintained over the years if the emergency system is a prime concern of government.

Brown, who pledged that voters would have a say on any state tax increases when he ran to return to the governor’s office, has shunned that promise in his second (or fourth) term.

Of course, Brown is not concerned with running for re-election so he can wave a red cape at the bull of conventional wisdom. He also has the power of his veto pen and the power of appointments to try and sway reluctant legislators.

But, ultimately, it is the voters who have the greatest influence over the legislators and there are signs they are fed up with more taxes.

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