Capitol Alert

Democratic adviser says Jerry Brown has an opportunity to change tax policy

Democratic political consultant Garry South at The Sacramento Bee, April 17, 2013.
Democratic political consultant Garry South at The Sacramento Bee, April 17, 2013.

Garry South, the Democratic strategist, has not always had the warmest relationship with Gov. Jerry Brown.

But in a panel conversation in which South was asked to look ahead Brown’s fourth term, he offered the Democratic governor some advice.

“I don’t presume to know what is in his head,” South said at a Public Policy Institute of California forum Tuesday. “But I will tell you I think that his legacy in the second two terms will be, to some degree, based on taxes.”

South, who advised former Gov. Gray Davis, recalled how quickly a budget surplus can turn to deficit in a state that relies heavily on taxes paid by its wealthiest residents.

“We have a very top heavy tax structure in this state that is so ludicrously top heavy that it turns into budget bulimia,” he said. “You have binge and purge. And Brown himself knows about this because when he came into office in 2011 there was a $26 billion budget deficit.”

South recommended “tearing up the tax code” by “pulling the tax structure down into the income brackets more.” This would be difficult for a Democratic Party that believes in progressive taxation, South acknowledged, but he said Brown has a unique opportunity to pull it off.

“If you can’t do it now, with a Democrat in the governor’s office in his fourth term, 76 (years old), 77 in April, nothing more to gain, can’t run again – at least for governor – then it will never get done,” South said. “A Democrat has to do it. It’s like a Republican going to China.”

As for Brown’s view of the opportunity, South said, “Whether he will grab it or not – given his attention span – I just don’t know.”

Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1215. Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders.