Things Get Depressing in California.

As you probably know, California suffers under an absurdly dysfunctional political system, particularly when it comes to the budget. Because of the diabolical Proposition 13 passed in 1978, raising taxes requires a two-thirds supermajority of both houses of the legislature. A two-thirds supermajority is also required to pass every budget. And of course, no one wants their services cut, which means the state is perpetually beset by deficits and budget crises.

This November, they'll get a new governor, either Republican billionaire Meg Whitman, or 1970s retread Jerry Brown (see the Prospect's story on Brown's candidacy here). Whitman has already spent a staggering $120 million on the race, and now Brown is finally up with his first TV spot. Let's take a look:

Brown wasn't really anybody's favorite candidate, but this is truly depressing. There are some ads that seem to be written right from polling and focus group results, but you'll seldom find one that comes so directly from the pollster's report as this one. After we get through the "He did a great job 30 years ago" section, we get this, from the horse's mouth:

I'm Jerry Brown. California needs major changes. We have to live within our means. We have to return power and decision-making to the local level, closer to the people. And no new taxes without voter approval.

You can bet that those four phrases scored high in the campaign's message testing poll. But let's look at that last one: "No new taxes without voter approval." So Brown wants to take a system where they already need a two-thirds majority to raise taxes, making it almost impossible to do so, and on top of that require that they pass an initiative every time they want to put in place a new tax. I'm sure it scores well -- hey, everybody hates taxes! -- but it's just about the antithesis of responsible governing.

Those with long memories will recall that when Brown ran for president in 1992, the centerpiece of his campaign was a proposal to replace the income-tax system with a flat tax. That's right -- the same thing that got Steve Forbes such well-deserved ridicule four years later.

-- Paul Waldman

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