During the Tea Party uprising of 2010, there were a few bright spots nationwide. One of them was here in California, where Democrats maintained their wide majorities in the Legislature and swept all the state-wide elected offices.

Jerry Brown, especially, was elected to office on a platform of fixing the dire straits into which the state budget had fallen. California, like many states, has a balanced budget amendment. It cannot run a deficit; it can float state bonds, and borrow, but the books have to be balanced every year. What this has meant in practice is a budget that arrives chronically late year after year, and cuts and more cuts to vital services because of the requirement—until the passage of Proposition 25 in, again, 2010, that dark year for progressives—that the budget required a super-majority of a 66% affirmative vote to be passed. That put the minority GOP in the catbird's seat every summer, exacting onerous cuts just to keep the state in a semblance of functionality. (By passing Proposition 25, the budget can now be enacted by a 55% simple majority.)

As part of his drive to remake state finances and put them on a surer footing, and keeping a promise to California voters that any tax hikes would have to be passed by popular vote (as it still requires a 2/3 vote for the Legislature to pass tax hikes), he's working to get a proposition on the November ballot.

Called the "California Sales and Income Tax Increase Initiative", it proposes to do the following things:
  • Raise California’s sales tax to 7.5% from 7.25%. 
  • Increase the state income tax on those whose income exceeds $250,000. This increased tax will be in effect for 7 years.
  • Those making $1 million or more, who are currently taxed at a marginal rate of 10.3%, would instead pay 13.3% under this proposal. This would be the highest personal income tax in the country.
To what purpose? The official summary is as follows:
Increases personal income tax on annual earnings over $250,000 for seven years. Increases sales and use tax by ¼ cent for four years. Allocates temporary tax revenues 89 percent to K-12 schools and 11 percent to community colleges. Bars use of funds for administrative costs, but provides local school governing boards discretion to decide, in open meetings and subject to annual audit, how funds are to be spent. Guarantees funding for public safety services realigned from state to local governments.
California used to have a public education system that was the envy of the country. K-12 education was well-funded, and California students could attend the University of California and California State University for a nominal fee. When Proposition 13 was passed in the anti-tax fever in the 1970s, local and state education spending began the precipitous decline until we have the situation we have now. State and local budgeting has become a matter of "when do you cut and how much".

Now, everything isn't rosy. This initiative is a result of a merger between Gov. Brown's own measure, which relied more heavily on the sales tax going up, and a competing measure called the "Millionaire's Tax Initiative" which was backed by the California Federation of Teachers. Signatures have to be collected and submitted by the end of April. The costs of getting the initiative on the ballot are being borne by the backers of the Millionaire's Tax; Gov. Brown is holding back committing his own war chest to get his proposal on the ballot if the compromise can't make it onto the November ballot. Many balls are still being juggled, and nothing is written in stone. Democracy is always an uncertain business.

But let's step back and consider the bigger picture. A Democratic governor has decided that the only way to stanch the bleeding in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education wasn't by robbing Peter to pay Paul—or by just robbing Peter and letting Paul fend for himself—but by raising the money through a tax hike. Yes, he wanted to rely more on the sales tax than the Millionaire's Tax backers wanted to. But, now, also consider this: he compromised with those competing backers, and incorporated their ideas into the initiative. Rather than a half cent hike in sales tax, it's down to a quarter cent, with the difference made up by, yes folks, a tax on the rich. Again, this was a Democratic governor. I doubt Meg Whitman, had she won, would be pushing such a ballot proposal.

Elections have consequences, as Senator Barbara Boxer famously told Jim Inhofe. Those of our brethren on the Left who will tell you that only the right kind of progress will do have lost again and again across the country, because in the end they don't know how to win people over due to their rigidity. Jerry Brown is not a raging leftist. He's a moderate Democrat from a political dynasty with a somewhat checkered past. But, he's a Democrat, and nine times out of ten that means he can be worked with, as the compromise reached between him and the CFT attest. He's willing to put his neck on the block and propose tax hikes to solve the state's problems. And, if this Los Angeles Times poll is accurate, the public is finding favor with his candor, with a 64% approval for the measure. That's how you move progressivism down the field, by treating voters as adults, and taking pragmatic measures to make things a bit better, so that next time you can do something bigger, until a more solid commonwealth is built. Republicans don't do this. They used to, but that's before the party became a far-right front for the waiting feudal aristocracy. Democrats, in general, engage in governance that tries to achieve the best for the most.

The alternative is this:
At the same time, though, those families would find themselves unable to pay for health care, and they would also face reductions in housing assistance, job training and Pell grants for college tuition, all of which Mr. Ryan wants to cut, with Mr. Romney’s approval.

In all, 62 percent of the budget’s cuts come from low-income programs, and that’s on top of the substantial cut in spending already in place from last year. But the Ryan budget does contain a substantial tax cut for the rich, which is one of the reasons Mr. Romney said he was “very supportive” of the plan.

“It’s a bold and exciting effort,” he said, “and it’s very much consistent with what I put out earlier.” It is also consistent with his stated lack of concern for the very poor.
No, Mr. Greenwald. No, Mr. Moore. Both parties are not the same.

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