Monday morning saw the true relaunch of Gov. Jerry Brown, and some of us streaming his press conference from Sacramento grasped pretty quickly what the recent change in regime would entail. Brown was unveiling his proposed 2011-12 state budget, which is a horrifying thing. In the face of a $28 billion budget shortfall, Brown is proposing massive cuts to higher education, slashed funding for the medical care of the poor, salary reductions of 10 percent for all non-unionized state employees, state park closures, shuttered redevelopment agencies, decimation of the welfare-to-work program and the forcible handoff of a grab bag of responsibilities from the state to local governments. It is, as KQED reporter John Myers noted, a "Schwarzenegger budget."
The substance was familiar, in other words. It was the style that had changed. Once upon a time, Schwarzenegger would have dived into this material with his usual hammy pitchmanship. There would have been emotional pleas, maybe tears. Now would be the time for all good Culliphoneyans to come together for Culliphoneya, so that the great Culliphoneya dream might continue to blah, blah, blah, etc. Then the debate moved to the legislature, and great knife battles ensued.
Brown, on the other hand, delivered his bad news with a detached, ironic cool. Look, he seemed to say -- this is how it is. You could believe him or not, and he didn't really seem to care one way or the other. Just his affect, in this regard, lends an air of inevitability to the things that are about to come. The new governor has promised no gimmicks, none of the budgetary sleights-of-hand that have plagued the process for the last decade, and he seems mostly to have delivered. The legislative members from Brown's Democratic Party seem mostly ready to swallow the pill. California is so monumentally broken that this rapid dismantling of great swaths of infrastructure and services does indeed seem like the only politically feasible fix.
A recent Brookings Institution report on the budgetary problems of four Western states, including California, highlighted their hamstrung budgetary powers, especially on the revenue side. In California, of course, this is a legacy of 1978's Proposition 13, which locked up property tax revenues forever. But Prop. 13 is the no-fly-zone of state politics, and no one seriously dares to bring up potential reforms to the system it has bequeathed us, even while the state burns. Brown -- who was governor back when the initiative was approved -- is no exception.
Indeed, Republican legislators have already vowed to block a special election that would extend the term of certain existing taxes and fees -- a cornerstone of the Brown budget. What happens if there is no election and the taxes expire, a reporter asked Brown Monday. Or what happens if the voters don't pass it?
The governor was nonplussed. He pointed back to the charts that outlined his huge cuts and said something like: Well, you can just take that and double it.
County Administrative Officer Phillip Smith-Hanes delivered a summary of the situation to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning. He and his colleagues tried to summarize all the county programs that would be affected by the Brown budget -- law enforcement budgets, fire services, mental health services, the protection of agricultural land, assistance to the needy. On and on and on.
Supervisor Clif Clendenen closed out his comments with an appeal for people to double and redouble their contributions to charities that care for the poor. No doubt government will soon flood us with such bleak requests -- won't you please give, so your neighbors don't die? -- and it brings to mind Oscar Wilde's 1891 essay "The Soul of Man Under Socialism." Wilde's main thrust is painfully dated, but in the years to come his opening sentence should be remembered: "The chief advantage that would result from the establishment of Socialism is, undoubtedly, the fact that Socialism would relieve us from that sordid necessity of living for others which, in the present condition of things, presses so hardly upon almost everybody."
Well, that would be a nice idea. But it seems that in getting government off our backs, we have all somehow tacitly agreed to shoulder a much heavier burden. So. With last weekend's deep freeze in mind, give a thought to contributing to Coats for the Cold.
Every January for the last four years, this organization -- founded by local resident Robert Lohn -- has conducted a coat drive to benefit children and adults who need help to stay warm. If you'd like to donate a new or lightly used coat, go to coatsforthecold.org and find one of the 35 businesses, countywide, that set up dropoff boxes.