Two Cannibals on a Desert Island

There may be honor among thieves, but apparently there’s not a great deal of trust between politicians and unions when they’re trying to raise taxes.

Let’s preface the following by conceding that neither Governor Brown nor the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) invites me to their cocktail parties so I am not privy to their conversations leading up to and during the deal they struck to wring more dollars out of California’s already beleaguered taxpayers. But there is certainly something curious about the events of last week that have political observers wondering what is going on.

To recap what we already know, Governor Brown has a plan to raise income and sales taxes but is frustrated because he faces almost certain defeat if his plan has to compete with other tax hike proposals on the ballot. Until last week, he was facing competition from Molly Munger (billionaire’s daughter) and the CFT, both of whom have plans to raise the income tax significantly more than the Governor’s plan.

On Wednesday morning, the Capitol was abuzz with rumors that Brown had successfully struck a deal with CFT. Sure enough, by the end of the day, it was official. Early reports suggested that, while Governor Brown would continue to collect signatures on his proposal “just in case,” CFT would stop collecting on its plan and reserve its resources for the qualification of the compromise measure.

Strangely, by the next day, CFT made it clear that, like Governor Brown, it would continue to collect signatures on its original millionaires tax if, for some reason, there was insufficient time to qualify the new plan.

It makes some sense that, due to timing and cost issues, it is prudent for both Brown and CFT to continue with the signature gathering of both their respective measures. But it raises the question of how strong is the glue that holds this deal together.

Qualifying the compromise measure is going to be horribly expensive because they will have so little time. Other than the professional signature gatherers laughing all the way to the bank, few of the tax raisers can be looking forward to the stressful process of getting this on the November ballot.

Indeed, if Brown and CFT were both serious about this deal, they would have both agreed to suspend signature gathering on their respective measures as a sign of good faith and, more importantly, to save precious dollars for the compromise measure. Plus, won’t it be confusing to be collecting signatures on at least two measures that you have to tell voters that “we won’t need these if this third initiative qualifies.” Voters are likely to respond “huh?”

So there you have it. It may be a politically incorrect, but the term, “Mexican standoff,” from the old cowboy movies, seems to apply here; to wit, both parties have power over the other in a manner to potentially achieve mutual destruction. CFT knows that its proposal polls much better than the Governor’s and Brown might think he can head fake the CFT into backing off the qualification of their measure so it doesn’t qualify at all, leaving his original proposal as the only one competing with Molly Munger.

Perhaps the better analogy is two cannibals stranded on a desert island. Both are afraid to fall asleep.

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.