Jerry Brown’s Challenging Narrative

Give him credit.  He could be traveling the country giving meandering lectures to college students, but Edmund G. Brown chose instead a career-topper trying to govern the ungovernable state.

Brown bit down on a tough bullet yesterday, having to admit not only that his January budget proposal was loaded with overly optimistic revenue projections, but that the “kick the can down the road” budget he acquiesced to last year also assumed phony revenues that never materialized.

As the sinkhole gets larger, Brown missed his real opportunity last year to push broad-based taxes to the ballot.  He relied on trying to cut a deal with a few GOP legislators instead of doing what he opted for this year…raising money and qualifying a tax ballot measure with signatures

Whether it was miscalculation or dawdling, he’s paying a huge price now for not getting taxes to the ballot last year in a special election, as he promised voters soon after being inaugurated.

Now Brown has capitulated to the left and agreed on taxing upper income levels, even though a week before he cut the deal he was criticizing the policy.

So that gets us to May Revise.  For Brown to credibly ask voters to raise taxes on themselves, he must demonstrate that; a) he truly is an honest broker and b) that he’s providing reforms to voters weary of over a decade of chronically out of whack budgets.

He’s struggling to demonstrate either.

The dramatic expansion of the deficit hurts his chances for voters to perceive him as different than past governors.  Which is a shame.  Brown had a unique opportunity here because he’s a unique political figure and talent, but the chronic dysfunction of the budget process is defining him instead of vice versa.

Secondly, it’s amazing that he’s demanding voters approve taxes from the bully pulpit while essentially abandoning any push for reform, like pension reform.  All GOP legislators have pledged votes for his middle of the road pension reform, but he has brushed aside their willingness to support his own proposal.

Additionally, Brown continues to be mute on job creation. Aside from a few events pushing green technology, Brown has offered no comprehensive vision for jump-starting job creation.  He sincerely wants to pursue reforms, especially to overhaul environmental regs, but he never talks about them.  Unfortunately that means voters hear zip from their governor on jump-starting the economy.

Brown can succeed in getting his taxes passed in November (even if they pass we will still have a huge deficit) but he needs to sharpen his narrative.  He needs to expand his definition of a town crier wailing for taxes while the unemployed and dispirited stare at him with indifference.

Rhetorical optimism isn’t going to get it done.  There needs to be action on the reform and job creation front.

–Rob Stutzman

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