Brown's Sales Pitch Begins

Governor's State of the State address will set the stage for an election year fight over taxes

Gov. Jerry Brown is not known for giving long speeches. Wednesday's State of the State address, his second since returning to office, is not likely to be any different.

But here's what will be different.

Brown has concluded that it makes no sense to negotiate with Republicans in the legislature, as he did in 2011, on a budget deal that includes temporary taxes.

Brown incorrectly felt that he could draw upon his long political experience to strike a compromise. What he found is that the Capitol culture has changed considerably from when he was governor from 1975 to 1983.

Term limits has done away with relationships of old. Lawmakers are more rigid. The Capitol is much more polarized. It's something Brown should've been more aware of.

Perhaps he was, and simply overestimated his ability to use his personal and political skills to clear partisan hurdles.

A good example of that divide comes from Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Palm Desert, who is denouncing the governor's tax proposals.

"I cannot understand why the governor and the majority party remain committed to growing government and taking more money from taxpayers," Wyland said in a statement.

In 2012, Brown is swapping the insider horse trading at the Capitol for a broad statewide appeal to voters. So his address Wednesday will be to a joint session of the legislature, but he's really speaking to a statewide audience. This will, in essence, be the kickoff of Brown's campaign for a tax package he'll put before voters in November.

We won't know details of what will Brown will say ahead of time. Last year, we were told he was still tweaking his speech up until just before he delivered it. But it's not hard to guess.

Brown's theme will be that there's no free lunch. If voters want to stop cuts to popular programs, such as public education and the state's universities and community colleges, he will argue, then they need to consider paying more in the form of temporary taxes.

Brown knows he has to make a compelling case, in light of critics who say he's making political threats to cut these programs. He'll need to convince the public that he's laying out hard choices, and that voters must make a reasoned decision.

Voters are going to be skeptical, which is why Brown will argue that his administration has taken credible steps to bring the budget into balance, with $13 billion in cuts last year. He'll probably make reference to his moves to eliminate cell phones, reduce take-home cars, and impose a hiring freeze. None of those amount to large savings, but they are symbolically powerful.

Brown may address pension reform Wednesday, as another means of reducing future spending. He may talk about the state water bond on the November ballot, and his support for the troubled high-speed rail system.

But the speech will set the foundation for his tax campaign. That campaign begins immediately. Brown has already announced he's hitting the road, addressing a group at LA City Hall on Wednesday afternoon, meeting with teachers in Burbank later that day, then traveling to Orange County and San Diego on Thursday.

Brown spent much of 2011 in Sacramento. He'll be a lot scarcer at the Capitol in 2012.

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