, Salem, MA

The Nation

March 8, 2011

Anti-tax pledge directs budget debates nationwide



In California, where lawmakers are grappling with a $26.6 billion deficit, Norquist's pledge has become a lightning rod, with Democrats accusing GOP lawmakers of caring more about a pledge from an outside group than their own state.

Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, wants the Legislature to call a special election for June and place a measure on the ballot asking Californians to extend temporary increases enacted two years ago on the income, sales and vehicle taxes. Those increases are scheduled to expire this year. If voters approve, they would remain in effect for another five years, bringing more than $9 billion a year to the state's treasury.

Brown also has called for more than $12 billion in spending cuts to higher education, welfare programs, health services for the poor, in-home care, state parks and a wide array of other programs.

A two-thirds vote is required in California's Legislature to pass tax and fee increases, or to place measures on the ballot. This year, that means two Republicans each in the Assembly and Senate are needed to place Brown's budget plan before voters.

The governor joked during a recent budget hearing that as a former Jesuit who studied to be a priest, he was able to get out of his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience — so he might be able to arrange absolution for Republicans who want out of their tax pledge. Brown reminded lawmakers that he is not asking for a tax increase directly. Rather, he wants them to put the question to voters so they can decide.

"This doesn't violate any no-tax pledge," he told lawmakers. "It's really a total misrepresentation to say that it is a tax increase to allow the people of California to vote on something so fundamental as their education, public safety and the other matters."

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