Our View: Brown rates same grade as Arnold
The new 2012 Fiscal Report Card on America's Governors by the libertarian Cato Institute assigned Gov. Jerry Brown a D grade for his first nearly two years in office. That's the same low grade Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger received for his final two years. The reason is the same: high taxes and too much spending, which dampen the business climate and repel job creation in California.
Compiled every two years, the report card is based on government data on: per capita spending; change in government spending (down is better); tax changes (cutting taxes are best); and four tax rates — personal income, corporate income, general sales and cigarettes (lower is better). The report card is nonpartisan. Republican and Democratic governors scored at the top and at the bottom.
Brown, a Democrat, has been in a verbal sparring match with Republican Gov. Chris Christie, with Brown challenging the rotund New Jersey chief executive to "a three-mile race, a push-up contest and a chin-up contest." To which Christie replied, "He can have that contest with himself. I'll continue to make my state better." Which he did. Christie garnered a B grade from Cato because, according to the report card, "He has repeatedly vetoed increases to individual income tax rates."
On the other hand, Cato assigned Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, both Republicans, D grades for tax and spending increases. New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, both Democrats, were given B grades for fiscal and taxing restraint.
"As bad as Brown is, there are worse states," said Chris Edwards, the author of the report card. The worst grade, F, was pinned on Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois. "He increased taxes $7 billion on a much smaller population than California's," Edwards said. Illinois' population of 12.9 million is about one third of California's. It would be like increasing taxes $21 billion here. Yet Brown's Proposition 30 tax increase is "only" $6 billion to $8.5 billion per year.
On spending, Edwards said Brown showed restraint the first year after returning to the governor's office he left in 1983, cutting the fiscal 2011-12 budget by $5 billion, to $87 billion. But this year, Brown signed a $93 billion budget. If Proposition 30 fails, that increase will get the ax.
There is a chance that Democrats on Election Day could gain two-thirds of the seats in the Legislature, allowing them to increase taxes without Republican votes. In his 2010 campaign, Brown pledged not to increase taxes without a vote of the people. He might be tested on that pledge.
"Tax rates are just way too high in California," Edwards warned. "It's killing growth. Jobs are moving to nearby states with a better tax climate. That means neither the private sector nor the government sector does well. California just can't afford these high tax rates in a global economy. You get into a death spiral if you have these high tax rates."
Voters could slow, if not quite reverse, that downward trend by rejecting all three tax increases on the ballot.