“The plan is the process.”
Sound familiar? Conservative pundits have twisted Brown’s quote about the state budget from a June interview on CNBC into a contention that he lacks specific plans for everything from taxes to business to state government as a whole.
Most of those claims are exaggerated, but the roots of the quote say a lot about Brown’s plan for wrestling with the perennially late state budget.
At the core of Brown’s budget plans are two simple precepts: start early, and be open. Brown has promised that if he is elected, he will begin meeting with legislators even before his inauguration. He recently called for unspecified “key decisions” to be voted on as early as June.
In an interview with Univision in August, Brown proposed breaking budget priorities into five or 10 categories and said he “won’t let legislators do other bills” until those key areas are reconciled. Whitman has floated a similar idea, though neither candidate has specified how that would be accomplished, beyond exercising veto power.
Brown has also consistently talked about meeting with lawmakers in both small and large groups in budget discussions – a departure from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (and other governors over the past couple decades), who tends to work most visibly with Assembly and Senate leadership during budget negotiations.
Brown’s calls for budget transparency have at times taken a paternal tone. He has promised to level honestly with taxpayers, lawmakers and interest groups about the condition of the state’s finances and several times has proposed letting voters decide for themselves, via referenda, what state spending priorities should be.
When he has been pressed on proposed cuts, Brown has offered few specifics, typically saying he would begin by cutting perks from the governor’s office and press the Legislature to do the same. Specifically, his budget plan also calls for "immediate cuts, especially in the areas of press and communications, lawyers and other staff who are duplicative with agency personnel." Pension reform, prison health care and Medi-Cal are other areas he has identified as ripe for cost-cutting.
In his official budget plan, Brown said he will veto new spending programs that do not come with adequate revenue sources and would propose a constitutional amendment to require new ballot initiatives to raise revenue to cover their costs. He advocates zero-based budgeting -- effectively starting each agency's budget from scratch each year -- until the state's finances stabilize.
Like Whitman, Brown supports enacting laws that would strip legislators of their pay and per diem allowances if they miss budget deadlines. He also said he would prioritize the creation of a rainy day fund.
Unlike Whitman, he opposes cutting the state’s capital gains tax. He also told the San Jose Mercury News in July that he, like many Democrats, favors Proposition 25, which would allow the budget to be passed by simple majority vote (taking away Republican leverage in the process). He has repeatedly said he will not allow tax increases unless voters approve them.
Brown has made frugality a cornerstone of his campaign message throughout. He often cites choices during his two terms in office from 1975 to 1983, such as renting an apartment rather than living in the governor’s mansion, as evidence of his spendthrift credentials.