Republican Votes for Spending Cuts? Now That's Funny!

Ideologically, there’s not much distance between California’s old governor and its new one. You have to hand this to Jerry Brown, though: He’s a lot funnier.

“I want the Republicans to be part of it,” he told reporters the other day about his budget plan. “I want them to own the budget, just like the Democrats. I don’t want anybody hiding out.”

Excuse me, Governor, but haven’t you noticed yet? Hiding out is exactly what California’s supermajority-mad fiscal system encourages Republicans to do.

Republicans insist they won’t vote for—or put on the ballot—the tax extensions Brown has proposed. You might logically conclude from that stand that Republicans also favor, and will vote for, the $12 billion in spending cuts their anti-tax conviction will entail.

If you do, you would be wrong, wrong, wrong.

Read as a mission statement, the budget comes down to this: The state educates, medicates, and incarcerates. More than 80 percent of general fund spending goes to schools, colleges, health care, and prisons/courts.

But as Jim Sanders gently reported in the Sacramento Bee, Republicans votes get scarce when it comes time to fit spending for these things to the tax levels they insist on. GOP legislators may rail at FlashReport about public employees, but few of them line up to vote against the correctional officers, whose union Republicans have long nurtured and whose pay and benefits account for more than 40 percent of general fund personnel costs. Republicans aren’t standing in line to cut schools. After all, many of their constituents have paid a big premium to buy houses in suburbs with “good schools,” and they would throw a fit if their representatives vote to turn those schools into places where 40 kids in an algebra class taught four days a week by a gym teacher.

So what are Republicans going to do? If the past is any guide, they’ll do precisely what California’s crazy system allows and encourages them to do: Establish the size of the budget by blocking any tax increase and then vote against—and blame Democrats for—the resulting spending cuts.

Will that be hypocritical and irresponsible? Yes. Will it surprise or disappoint Jerry Brown? Only if he believes his own jokes.