If you ride public transportation, have children in public school or have visited state parks recently, you know that budget cuts over the past several years have seriously harmed these and many other services on which Californians rely. This year, through a mix of additional cuts and tax extensions, Governor Brown has proposed a balanced approach to the budget that would address the state’s $26 billion shortfall and put the state on a path to fiscal stability. He has proposed a measure for the June ballot that would extend personal income, sales and vehicle license taxes at their current rates for five years. Even if this proposal makes it to the ballot and wins approval, California’s environment and public health programs are facing cuts. But without the tax extensions, the Governor and legislature will need to find even more cuts, which would likely mean closure of all of the state parks, further reductions in public transit service, threats to air and water quality, and devastating cuts to schools, universities and health care.
There are no great choices in the current budget debate. Especially in a struggling economy, California needs more investment in infrastructure, natural resources and schools, not less. But in a state that requires a 2/3 super majority vote of the legislature to approve new revenues, and with most Republican legislators signing a pledge that they will not raise taxes before they even come into office, Capitol watchers do not expect any new revenues anytime soon. Our state’s rules even require a 2/3 vote to put the governor’s proposed tax extensions before voters. To date, Republicans in both houses are withholding votes to put this choice to the people despite a new poll that shows that 61% of Californians want the chance to vote and despite broad support for the Governor’s proposal including this editorial from the San Jose Mercury News. To make matters worse, the Los Angeles Times reports that a handful of Republican senators are using the state’s fiscal crisis as leverage to weaken health, environmental and community protections that have been in place for decades. This Tom Toles cartoon in this week’s Washington Post sums up recent Republicans plans in California and nationally.
NRDC urges California’s leaders to put Governor Brown’s tax extension proposal on the ballot. Click here to send a message to your own state representatives urging them to let the people decide.