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Jon Fleischman

WSJ’s Kelm: California’s New Normal: Budget Stalemate

From today’s Wall Street Journal Political Diary E-mail…

California’s New Normal: Budget Stalemate

In keeping with longstanding state custom, California finds itself in the midst of a budgetary stalemate. Gov. Jerry Brown has maintained his position that he will neither raise nor extend taxes without the voters’ consent, but a new poll suggests that his referendum plan might just backfire.

On the surface, things look good for the Democrat. According to a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, 62% favor holding a special election, and an identical 62% approve of Mr. Brown’s budget solution in concept. But the problem arises when voters take a closer look. When asked about extending certain taxes — a vital part of the Brown plan — just 46% still say yes.

With the notable exception of the governor himself, few players in Sacramento are keen on the idea of a special election anyway. Legislative Democrats and their union allies fear that attempts to increase taxes would be roundly defeated. Republicans, meanwhile, refuse to give their consent to a special election until they see movement on a spending cap and pension reform. And thus California finds itself at a familiar impasse.

Still, Mr. Brown doesn’t seem discouraged. “When you have a log jam, it’s very important to get an outside arbiter, and I can’t think of a better arbiter than the people themselves,” he told the press. The problem is that, if the PPIC poll is to be believed, the people are in stalemate themselves. They oppose tax increases, but they also overwhelmingly oppose spending cuts for items like K-12 education. In their view, the prison system is the only meaty part of the budget that could be made leaner. And though a surprising 70% sounded that refrain, PPIC noted that the question was asked before the Supreme Court ordered the state to reduce its prison population by 33,000 to alleviate overcrowding. When faced with the idea of prisoners getting early release, voters might change their mind on that score, too.

— Carl J. Kelm