The budget ratified Wednesday, largely on a party-line vote, placed the veteran pol in a sticky wicket: veto it and ruffle some feathers, or sign it and trigger a chorus of "Brown broke his promise about gimmicks" comments by pundits and potshot takers alike.
At first, few seemed to think he'd do it. In fact, in records dating back to 1901, no one has found a gubernatorial budget veto (although others have been threatened, as recently as the summer of 2008). But Jerry Brown has made a career out of defying conventional wisdom. And given his passionate rebuke of budget gimmicks during the 2010 campaign, the veto of the budget seems to at least make good on those promises.
The consensus opinion from newspapers around the state seems to be that Brown did the right thing. Some extracts:
- Brown keeps trust with voters by vetoing sham budget (San Jose Mercury News)
Gov. Jerry Brown kept his promise. He has said for months that he would refuse to sign a budget filled with gimmicks. That's exactly what Democrats in the Legislature sent him Wednesday, and he quickly vetoed it, saying, "I don't want to see more billions in borrowing, legal maneuvers that are questionable, and a budget that will not stand the test of time." Can we get an "amen" to that?
- Dan Walters: If California legislators get paid, vetoed budget is giant charade (Sacramento Bee)
Now isn't this fun? The Legislature's Democrats push a chewing-gum-and-baling-wire budget through in near-record time, claiming that it's balanced and meets the rarely observed June 15 constitutional deadline for action. One day later, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown rejects it as unbalanced and unworkable – after hinting three days before that he might sign such a budget... A complicating factor is that Steinberg, Pérez and public employee unions really don't want the fall election that Brown seeks on taxes, fearing – with good reason – that voters would reject them.
Still another is the new state law that strips legislators of salaries and expense checks, about $400 per day each, if a budget is not passed by June 15. Controller John Chiang has appointed himself the law's enforcer. Legislative leaders contend that Wednesday's budget action complies, but Brown's declaration that the budget was unbalanced gives Chiang grounds to stop the paychecks if he wishes. Chiang was waffling Thursday, saying he wants "to complete our analysis" before deciding whether to pay lawmakers at the end of the month. If Chiang pays legislators, the rejected budget will look like a giant charade by Democrats to evade the law.
- Budget veto: Brown's stark choice (LA Times)
By vetoing the bills, Brown kept his campaign promise not to support budgetary shell games. He also presented lawmakers with a stark choice: either agree to his proposal to ask voters to extend some temporary tax increases, or make deeper cuts in schools, universities and public safety. Those areas weren't hit as hard as safety net programs were when the Legislature approved more than $10 billion in cuts in March, but with a budget gap of about $10 billion remaining, those programs are the biggest targets.
Lawmakers have already cut general-fund spending to 2005 levels, and cutting billions more would take an unacceptable toll on vital state services. And California doesn't have to go down that road — Republicans have said they're willing to let the public vote on Brown's tax proposal, which would maintain a temporary hike in sales and vehicle taxes for five years instead of allowing them to drop on July 1.
- Gov. Jerry Brown's budget veto was the right move (SF Chronicle)
...The spending plan that Brown shot down invited a veto. It siphoned off tobacco tax money, stalled payments to schools and universities, and peddled state buildings for quick cash. For months, Brown has weighed in against this kind of trickery. The one saving grace: Democrats showed balky Republicans that a budget could be done without them. The shock value of a veto clearly raises the stakes.
- Brown was right to veto the sham budget (Bay Area News Group)
The budget that was passed was an unworkable melange of unrealistic revenue projections, steeper spending cuts and of dubious legality concerning motor vehicle license "fees" and local sales taxes. But it doesn't matter now that Brown has vetoed it, making moot threats by anti-tax groups to sue. Even before the governor acted, everyone in Sacramento understood that the budget was unworkable and was passed for the sole reason of preserving legislative pay and benefits. Now that the on-time budget charade has been played out, Brown and lawmakers in both parties still have to reach an agreement that preserves essential state services and does not overburden taxpayers and businesses during a tough economic period.
- Budget vetoed, now back to work (San Diego Union-Tribune)
...This was not a budget worth celebrating. Instead, it was one more example of the disconnect between how the real world operates and how the Capitol does. A business – or a family, for that matter – that can never make ends meet and faces financial ruin doesn’t celebrate when it makes one more bad decision. A business, or at least one with stockholders, would face a civil investigation and investor lawsuits if it issued dishonest financial statements.
But in Sacramento, the adoption of another state spending plan built on accounting gimmicks, bogus revenue predictions and legally problematic tax hikes is a reason to party. This is why we welcome Gov. Jerry Brown’s quick decision to veto the budget. “We can – and must – do better,” Brown said. “A balanced budget is critical to our economic recovery.”
A good veto, probably for wrong reasons (Orange County Register)
Gov. Jerry Brown was right Thursday to veto a gimmick-laden, tax-increasing, unworkable state budget. But he probably did it for the wrong reason. We agree with the governor that the budget passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature was not realistically balanced, as the law intends, and that it would have extended deficits for years, adding to the state's already enormous debt burden... Mr. Brown wants what he has wanted all year. Only new taxes adding up to $50 billion over five years can solve the budget shortfalls and address California's longer-term fiscal problems, the governor insists. He's wrong. Consequently, Mr. Brown and we dramatically disagree on what should come next.
- Budget nonsense (Riverside Press-Enterprise)
The misguided mess of a budget legislators approved on Wednesday deserved the quick death it died on Thursday. The Legislature should now pass a serious spending plan instead. The state does not need more pointless political theater, but a Legislature willing to put state finances on a more sustainable footing.
An on-time state budget is not the same as a realistic spending plan. Democrats in the Legislature pushed through a majority-vote budget on Wednesday that supposedly closed the remaining $9.6 billion deficit in the $89 billion spending plan for 2011-12. The quick passage was aimed to preserve legislators' pay; Prop. 25 requires them to forfeit income if a budget bill has not emerged by June 15.
Now that Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed the Democratic legislators' flawed budget, Controller John Chiang can strike a blow for fiscal responsibility by withholding lawmakers' pay. That's what he should do...Democrats did approve a spending plan by that deadline. Democratic leaders say that action ought to be enough to ensure they continue to be paid. However, their plan seeks to close a $10 billion budget gap with a mix of cuts, accounting trickery, and legally questionable fee hikes and raids on other funds.
Listen to a California Report summary of yesterday's events by John Myers below: