When Jerry Brown won the governor's race last November, he faced an historic opportunity. With California looking at a $26 billion budget deficit, caused primarily by the Great Recession, the new governor could have ushered in an era of shared sacrifice. It was no secret that generous compensation and pension packages awarded to public employees during flush economic times were no longer sustainable. In addition, state taxpayers didn't seem in the mood to extend tax increases set to expire on July 1 if public-employee unions were unwilling to do their part.
Yet instead of demanding substantial concessions from state workers, coupled with much-needed pension reform, the new governor signed a series of sweetheart deals with the powerful prison guards' union and other public employees. The pacts had almost no effect on the state's massive deficit, and yet the Democratic-controlled legislature wholeheartedly endorsed them.
It was a stark example of being politically tone-deaf. Brown and the Democrats also repeatedly resisted calls for public-employee pension reform, even though most California residents will never be fortunate enough to receive such lucrative benefits. Indeed, the message was clear: There would be no shared sacrifice. Public-employee unions had spent millions helping Brown defeat Republican billionaire Meg Whitman, and they were not going to be asked to help California fix its budget mess.
Instead, Brown has pushed relentlessly for his tax-extension ballot measures, even though most California residents, who will have to pay those taxes if they pass, bear little to no responsibility for the state's financial woes. In fact, many state residents are still reeling from the effects of the economic meltdown. They've watched their homes lose half their value. And many of them have their lost their jobs, or had their hours cut back at work, and are teetering on the brink of foreclosure or bankruptcy.
Yet Brown continues to express bewilderment as to why he's been unable to attract the GOP votes he needs to put his tax measures on the ballot and enact a so-called "bridge" so that the taxes remain in effect until voters have their say. The governor also apparently doesn't realize that even if he gets his coveted Republican votes, California voters appear determined to defeat the measures. A recent poll by the respected Public Policy Institute of California showed that fewer than half of state residents say they will vote for them.
And why should they? Why should they continue to sacrifice when the prison guards' union and other public employees refuse to do their part?
The sad truth, however, is that Californians will likely have to bear the brunt of the state's budget woes no matter what happens. If Republicans continue to block the tax measures, then Brown and the Democrats will likely enact deep cuts to public schools, and are threatening major cutbacks to public safety. In other words, middle- and lower-income families will once again be required to sacrifice.
The Same in Oakland
Mayor Jean Quan, meanwhile, appears to be making a similar mistake in Oakland. Late last week, she harangued some councilmembers for blocking her plan a few months ago to put a parcel tax before voters in June. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Quan argued that the move will force her to lay off valuable city employees on July 1, and the earliest she would be able to rehire them is in the fall, when Oakland voters are expected to weigh-in on her $11 million parcel tax proposal.
Quan has a point. The city may lose many skilled employees who will accept jobs elsewhere before she has a chance to rehire them. Her criticism of Councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Libby Schaaf, who blocked her parcel tax proposal, also likely endeared the mayor to the city's public-employee unions.
But Quan, like Brown, appears to be misreading the electorate. If the council had put her parcel tax before voters this month, there's reason to believe that they would have voted it down. Why? Oakland's police union has still not agreed to start paying into its pension plan, while other city employees continue to receive unsustainably high compensation packages.
Quan's administration is currently in intense negotiations with the police and fire unions, and if they agree to substantial concessions, other city unions probably will follow suit. But if they don't, then Oakland voters, like the rest of the state, seem unlikely to vote to tax themselves again. And why should they without shared sacrifice?
'Justice Has Been Done'
When the jury in the Chauncey Bailey case stayed out for three weeks, deliberating, one couldn't help but wonder whether it was going to end in an acquittal or mistrial because Oakland police had screwed up the criminal investigation. After all, the entire case against ex-Your Black Muslim Bakery CEO Yusuf Bey IV appeared to hinge on the testimony of confessed triggerman — and thanks to OPD, known liar — Devaughndre Broussard.
Back in 2007, shortly after Broussard had assassinated Oakland journalist Bailey, police Sergeant Derwin Longmire put Broussard alone in the same room with Bey IV and turned off the recording machine. Longmire, the lead investigator in the case, later claimed it was a standard OPD investigative technique and that his personal relationship with Bey IV had nothing to do with his decision.
Predictably, Bey IV convinced Broussard in that private meeting to say that he killed Bailey on his own. Broussard later recanted and confessed that Bey IV had instructed him to shoot Bailey to stop him from writing news stories about the bakery's financial problems, but the damage had been done. Thanks to Longmire, Broussard, the star witness against Bey IV, had lied.
Bey IV's attorney Gene Peretti hammered Broussard's credibility throughout the trial. And it didn't help that on the stand Broussard came off as the stone-cold killer that he is. But in the end, the jury believed Broussard last week and the case put on by prosecutor Melissa Krum, convicting Bey IV of first-degree murder for ordering Bailey's assassination.
Bailey's cousin, Wendy Ashley-Johnson, told reporters outside court that Bailey would have said of the verdict: "Justice has been done."