Is the Governor Joking With California Taxpayers?

In announcing that his estimate of the budget shortfall has ballooned from $9 billion to $16 billion in just four months, Governor Brown concluded, “But we’re getting there; we’re making real progress.” Perhaps this is further evidence that there is a fine line between being, as he described himself, “a buoyant optimist” and being just plain delusional.

Brown’s approach to the budget sounds a lot like the old joke where the pilot comes over the intercom to announce to passengers that he has good news and bad news. “The bad news is we are lost -- the good news is we are ahead of schedule.”

But with Brown’s budget press conference last week, few people will mistake his material for a standup comedy routine. Even if that were his intent, Brown clearly does not understand his audience. His solution to the problem of Sacramento’s inability to balance the budget is a very unfunny tax increase.

The governor does not recognize that he and his colleagues in the Sacramento political class are not trusted by average Californians. As if any additional evidence were needed to increase their skepticism, here is a summary of the three reasons the deficit grew so quickly from CA Budget Check:

The deficit has grown from $9.2 billion to $15.7 billion. This increase was a function of $1.7 billion in spending increases since the adopted 2011-12 budget, a failure of $4 billion of "phantom revenue" to materialize and increased spending proposed for 2012-13.

Would a person of sound mind invest money in a private company managed like this? Certainly not, but the governor wants taxpayers to invest in state government with no evidence of changes or reforms that would lead to a turnaround.

If the governor would get out from under the Capitol dome a little more often he would know what the people are really thinking.

First, they believe they are overtaxed, and the figures bear this out. California ranks first in sales tax, second in gas tax and third in income tax rates. Even with Proposition 13, the state is well above the national average in per capita property tax collections.

Second, regular folks want state government reformed. Here are reforms high on their demand list:

Budget Reform: Spending is out of control and should be limited to the growth of inflation and population.

Pension Reform: State governments have nearly a half-trillion dollars in unfunded pension liability for which taxpayers are on the hook. Government workers should not be allowed to retire as young as 50 with pension benefits nearly as high as their full-time salary.

Regulatory Reform: California’s hostile regulatory environment is frequently the subject of national media coverage. As other states recover from the economic downturn and, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, enjoy higher revenues with lower taxes, California’s business climate is driving our job creators to other locations.

The governor has acknowledged the public’s desire for reform, but says they will have to wait until after his proposed tax hikes. But voters have been burned so many times in recent years by empty promises of reform that most political insiders believe that rejection of the tax hikes is a near certainty.

Voters simply aren’t buying Jerry Brown’s tax proposal because they understand that increasing the already-high state tax burden is not the answer to our problems -- problems that are created by Sacramento.

The failure to put reforms high on his priority list was perhaps the cruelest punch line of all from our esteemed Governor.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -– California's largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers' rights.