Gov. Jerry Brown joined other political figures one evening last week to raise money for a Capitol internship program and deliver a paean to political compromise.
“Don’t stick too hard to your principles,” Brown advised his fellow politicians, citing his own experience with Proposition 13, the iconic 1978 property tax limit.
Brown, then in his first stint as governor, strenuously opposed the ballot measure, calling it “a ripoff,” but immediately after its overwhelming passage, energetically embraced it.
During last week’s event, Brown described his change of position as merely recognizing that Proposition 13 was law, but that was revisionist history.
Brown actually declared himself a “born-again tax cutter,” championed a state income tax cut that put the state budget in operational deficit, and then ran for president in 1980 as a critic of the imbalanced federal budget.
That campaign went almost nowhere, dying after a lackluster showing in the Wisconsin primary 36 years ago this week.
Brown delivered last week’s remarks just a few days after agreeing to an increase in the state’s minimum wage, now $10 an hour, to $15 by 2022 – after months of resisting such a boost, during which his Department of Finance said a smaller boost to $13 would be economically harmful.
As with Proposition 13, Brown’s turnabout on wages aligned himself with a shift in underlying political dynamics – a union-backed ballot measure to boost the wage level to $15. And true to form, Brown not only agreed to the wage boost he had opposed, but essentially claimed ownership.
“Morally and socially and politically, they (minimum wages) make every sense because it binds the community together and makes sure that parents can take care of their kids in a much more satisfactory way,” Brown declared Monday as he signed the bill in Los Angeles amidst much hoopla.
“This is about economic justice,” Brown added. “Let’s keep it going. It’s not stopping here.”
Brown’s flip-flop on minimum wages illustrates another aspect of his second governorship – an appetite for big, even historic, policy moves whose consequences won’t become evident until well after he’s exited the political stage.
The minimum wage boost may positively affect the personal finances of millions of Californians who perform low-skill jobs, not only those earning minimum wages now but those that are a rung or two higher on the economic ladder.
But when fully implemented, it will raise employers’ costs by tens of billions of dollars a year. And as Brown’s own Department of Finance had said earlier, it also could have the negative effect of eliminating jobs, particularly those that can be automated or are in marginal segments of the economy, including agriculture.
However, we won’t know its net impact before Brown departs in 2019, just as we won’t know whether his school finance overhaul will raise achievement of poor or “English-learner” students, whether the state budget will remain balanced, whether his “WaterFix” will actually fix vexatious water problems, or whether his bullet train will be anything more than a train to nowhere.