Governor Jerry Brown’s says he wants a constitutional guarantee for state funding for law enforcement realignment that will shift certain prisoners from state to local control. Mention a constitutional guarantee for funding and immediately Prop 98 comes to mind.
Prop 98 guarantees about forty-percent of the state general fund money for schools. When state lawmakers complain that they can’t do their job because of constitutional mandates they often are referring to Prop 98, although they rarely say so publically in order not to offend the powerful teachers’ union that created Prop 98.
Unlike, Prop 98, however, Brown’s revenue guarantee to local governments may not simply approve a slice of the general fund to go to realignment. It is possible a tax could be part of the governor’s initiative to promote the realignment, especially if he goes the initiative route as he suggested to the press yesterday. The governor would have to be wary of the single subject rule that says an initiative promotes only one subject but if the tax increase is part of the realignment revenue guarantee and not a tax for broader purposes it would not violate the law.
Voters seem to back the governor’s idea of realignment. According to the Public Policy Institute poll released this morning, “Sixty-one percent of Californians favor a shift of some tax dollars and fees from the state government to local governments, so local governments can take on the responsibility of running certain programs currently run by the state; 23 percent are opposed.”
But the question asks about a shift of taxes and fees. It did not test the idea of raising taxes for the purpose of realignment.
Public safety always is a good subject to tie to a tax increase. There is precedent for such a move. In 1993, during another difficult economic time for California, Governor Pete Wilson led a campaign for a ½ cent sales tax, which was dedicated to local public safety. Proposition 172 passed.
Still, if Brown’s guarantee would include tax increases he faces some hurdles. In past polls, the one issue that voters clearly say they want to cut is prisons. If the issue of realignment is focused on prisoners will the voters go along if a tax increase is part of the funding guarantee Brown seeks?
Second, assuming it carries a tax increase, is the funding guarantee the only tax measure on the ballot? Brown and others want to raise taxes for general governmental operations. If multiple tax increases appear on the ballot do overwhelmed taxpayers simply vote no?
It is likely that Brown will have to go the initiative route to get his funding guarantee for the realignment. If so, there is a good chance a tax will be attached to the measure.