To win over voters who are undecided about his tax increase measure, Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown must first convince them that the state is prepared to use the money in a prudent fashion.
The pension reform measure lawmakers approved last week helps him make that case. But he could take a step backward if he signs a bill on his desk to enhance death benefits for public safety officers.
The pension reforms are not nearly as robust as the governor initially proposed. But in an interview with The Bee's editorial board on Thursday, Brown called them "positive," and "a real step." And he signaled that more fixes may be coming. "There is more to do so that we can get it into the constitution and get some independent members onto the (California Public Employees' Retirement) board I am strongly committed to doing that."
Voters need to hold him to that commitment.
Of course, it does no good to roll back excessive pension benefits approved in the past if the governor is unwilling to hold the line on future excessive benefits for public employees. To hold the line on spending, Gov. Brown will have to say "no" to the same labor allies he needs to help get his tax increase measure passed.
Assembly Bill 2451 is a real-world test of the governor's commitment to fiscal discipline. Like this editorial board, he respects the risks that police officers and firefighters face on the job and the hardships their families endure. But the bill on his desk, sponsored by powerful police and firefighter unions and authored by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, goes too far in expanding death benefits that are already generous imposing new costs on state and local governments. It doubles the statute of limitations on job-related death benefits for firefighters, police officers and prison guards. Democrats and Republicans approved the bill despite strong opposition from cities and counties that complain they can't afford new obligations at a time when they are laying off police and firefighters because of budget troubles.
Signing this bill would send the wrong message to state voters weighing Proposition 30.
In our meeting with him, the governor refused to say how he would handle AB 2451 and other bills on his desk. However, he suggested he would be highly attentive to how voters might react to his bill signings.
"I am very aware that more benefits at a time we are trying to convince people we are dealing with our budget will carry a very heavy burden from my point of view," he said. "I am going to be more fiscally prudent than I normally am and I am extremely wary of spending money in any domain in life."
By that standard, the governor has little choice. He needs to pull out his veto pen and reject AB 2451.