Those who know me best know I didn't seek public office to dismantle public institutions or eliminate help for people most in need.
But that's exactly the Sophie's Choice I confronted as Senate leader in 2009. Our state found itself staring down the barrel of a crushing $60 billion deficit.
Working together, the governor and Legislature stabilized our fiscal foundation while, to the extent possible, mitigating the human cost of severe but necessary cuts. The direction is clear: We have steadily erased the deficit from its high of $60 billion in 2009.
The price has been steep. Ask any college student, classroom teacher, neighborhood watch leader or low-income adult with an abscessed tooth what billions in budget cuts have meant to them.
The state's economic support of California's lower-income senior citizens is at its lowest since 1983, and California spends less on every resident than it did in 1990. The opportunity before voters on Nov. 6 is to end California's chronic budget crises and begin a new era of reform and reinvestment.
Proposition 38 is a damaging detour from that pathway and a direct threat to California's near-term fiscal stability, putting us right back at the bottom of a multibillion-dollar budget hole.
One cannot fairly argue Proposition 38 without contrasting it with Gov. Jerry Brown's measure, Proposition 30.
If both propositions prevail an unlikely outcome and Proposition 38 gains more votes than Proposition 30, Proposition 38 will cancel out Proposition 30.
I care less about the defeat of Proposition 38 than I do about a strong victory for Proposition 30.
Proposition 30 ends a five-year deficit and avoids $6 billion in immediate trigger cuts to public education, including $500 million of higher education cuts. California is poised to reinvest in its people, businesses, and environment. It can do so only with a balanced budget.
Proposition 30 balances the budget. Proposition 38 misses the mark by billions. Proposition 38 would require the state to make $6 billion of immediate trigger cuts to balance the budget, resulting in further cuts to higher education, public safety and the already minimal help for people living on society's edge.
Where do Proposition 38's proponents propose who and what should bear those cuts, especially after the bloodletting over the last five years?
Proposition 38 would expose nearly all Californians to higher income taxes. It locks in an across-the-board tax increase for 12 years (Proposition 30 mainly affects higher-income earners and sunsets five years earlier) and cannot be fixed legislatively, even as economic conditions change. Its complicated funding mechanism hits households relying on incomes as low as $7,316 per year.
Proposition 38's promised education funding would not kick in until late 2013. So $6 billion of trigger cuts would have already removed three weeks from the 2012-13 school year before the first dollar of Proposition 38 money reaches classrooms.
Proposition 38 is troubling for another reason. It demonstrates why the initiative process in California is out of control.
Representative government is far from perfect, but it has some distinct advantages over the sometimes necessary, but too often misguided, initiative process.
Representatives are elected; initiative proponents generally are not.
Budget and legislative decisions require months of intense public scrutiny and input; initiatives are written by individuals or interest groups with no public scrutiny and without public input. Budget and legislative decisions must earn the approval of a majority (or two-thirds) of elected representatives and a governor's signature. The ultimate product requires compromise. Initiatives require no amendments.
While well-intentioned, the proponents of Proposition 38 are neither publicly accountable to the consequences of Proposition 38 trumping Proposition 30, nor responsible for the messy cleanup operation and greater pain of far-reaching budget cuts should Proposition 38 pass with more votes than Proposition 30.
Gov. Brown inherited a $26 billion deficit. He ran a campaign telling voters that he would consider putting a revenue measure on the ballot to balance out the deep cuts. He won the election convincingly.
His revenue proposal, Proposition 30, is the summit of a two-year uphill climb to shrink government, slash spending and balance the budget.
It meets his campaign commitment to give the final say to the people of California. This is representative democracy working.
Vote yes on Proposition 30. Balance the budget, strengthen representative government and set the stage for California's full recovery.