When Democratic Governor Jerry Brown appeared before the Assembly Budget committee last week, he did more than make his case. He called Republicans' bluff on the meaning of democracy.
By now the storyline on the state budget battle is well known. With the state $25 billion in the hole, Brown has proposed $12.5 billion in cuts to the $85 billion budget;. He wants to get the rest from voter approval of a ballot proposition that would continue temporary income tax, sales tax and motor vehicle fee hikes for 5 years.
Legislative Democrats appear willing to go along, albeit kicking and screaming because of cuts to education and social welfare programs.
For their part, Republicans say that all $25 billion of the cuts should come with a reduced budget. Clearly, these two approaches represent a legitimate difference of opinion, but here's where it gets interesting.
Brown wants the legislature to put the issue before the voters, something that can't happen without a few Republican votes.
"Let the people decide their fate" is the gist of the governor's refrain. But thus far, Republicans have refused to let the people decide, claiming that's not what the people want. Really? How do we know?
As a result of their position, legislative Republicans now appear undemocratic. Remember, the question before the legislature is not whether the voters should support more taxes, but whether they should be given the opportunity to decide the question one way or another.
By refusing to even permit voter participation, legislative Republicans are looking pretty silly. It's as if they are saying "we're afraid of the outcome."
Whether the legislative Republicans change their minds and allow the proposal to go forward remains to be seen. But the longer they dither over the issue, the more they give the Governor ammunition to attack their character--and the more many may jeopardize their re-election chances in 2012.