Last week, Governor Brown presented his May Revision for the upcoming budget. In it, he treaded carefully with revenue expectations. However the LAO came back with a somewhat rosier view on revenue giving the liberal state legislature what they wanted. On the other side of the country, the Virginia Republicans met at their spring convention to nominate their candidates for Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General. They also decided to nominate by convention for the 2014 Senate election next year, leading to more ultra-conservative tickets in the future. Today’s tidbits will examine the political implications of these two events.
Virginia Republicans Make Their Lives More Difficult
As with caucus nominations versus primaries, the smaller the population that gets a voice in the nomination process, the further away from the voters a nominee actually be.
At their convention this past weekend, the Republican activists who attended the convention nominated candidates for Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General. The Governor and Attorney General nominations were relatively straight forward and quick, but the Lt. Governor decision lasted until 10:40 PM at night on Saturday. Over the course of their decisions, these activists put together the most conservative ticket Virginia has seen in a very, very long time.
Why is this a problem? One simple answer: Barack Obama and Bob McDonnell. Obama has carried Virginia twice and Bob McDonnell managed to win in between by running a very pragmatic conservative campaign focusing on jobs, the economy, education, and transportation. It will be very difficult for the Republican ticket to maintain a laser-like focus on the issues McDonnell successfully ran on because of the rather colorful past comments many on the ticket (particularly Cuccinelli and Lt. Governor nominee E.W. Jackson) have made about social issues.
The Virginia Republicans, striving for ideological purity and partisan discipline among their candidates, unnecessarily hamstringed themselves by nominating via convention. Only hardcore activists attend conventions and only the most ardent of followers would have stuck around for hours (until after 10 PM at night) to continue voting on ballot after ballot for the Lt. Governor candidacy. As such, they nominated a candidate as far away from the general voting public as you can get. The convention also scared off current Lt. Governor Bill Bolling from seeking the Governor nomination. He would have easily topped Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe.
Now Cuccinelli has to run the best campaign he’s ever run with a running mate prone to making out-of-the-mainstream comments on social issues. To put the cherry on top, the activists, naturally, decided to nominate by convention again for the 2014 Senate race when incumbent Mark Warner will be up for re-election. Warner will be a tough candidate to beat no matter who the Republicans put up, but if this past weekend was any indication of the type of candidate the convention will yield, Virginia will instantly become a safe Democratic Senate seat.
The only up-side to the 2013 gubernatorial race is that the Democrats have Terry McAuliffe as their candidate. But the Virginia Republicans can’t continue to rely on the Democrats putting up bad candidates of their own to make statewide races competitive. Nomination by convention will likely hand the Democrats in this purple state election after election. It’s time to return to primaries before the state GOP has completely ceded this once reliable state.
LAO Goes Optimistic While the Governor Tries to Pull in the Reigns
Governor Brown has a serious problem. Brown desperately needs to make sure the Democrats in the state don’t ruin the good fortune voters provided them last November, while at the same time the ultra-liberal Democrats who occupy the state legislature desperately want to flex their new-found legislating ability. The first showdown will be the budget and more specifically, how much revenue California has to spend.
Brown has been busy tampering down expectations, while the LAO last week only gave fodder to the legislature Democrats agenda.
While the recent news cycle has focused on the approximately $4.5 billion in extra revenue coming in, Brown’s May Revision actually drops revenue expectations from his January Budget proposal by about $1.3 billion in all. The Governor gave a myriad of reasons for the discrepancy in expectations including the federal payroll tax increase and a downward revision on economic forecasts. However, the LAO determined, based on rosier economic forecasts, that the revenue through the 2014 fiscal year would be about $2.8 billion over the Governor’s expectations.
The LAO’s economic assumptions may be too optimistic. In many ways, they are expecting housing prices to continue to rise (and arguably even explode), expecting the stock market to continue to rise, and expecting joblessness and income growth to drop and increase, respectively, in a manner that I find overly optimistic. However, aside from the economic assumptions, the likelihood of anyone reading the LAO’s cautionary notes and suggestions at the end of their forecast/report is slim. As such, the liberal Democrats will only read what they want to read to bolster their plan to spend more.
For instance, the LAO, despite its differences with the Governor, commend his caution. As they write, “In our view, there is good reason for the Legislature to adopt a cautious budgetary posture.” They also recommend that if the Legislature is going to spend the extra money, it should do it wisely by paying down the enormous amounts of debt California holds (both bonded debt and also unfunded obligations). Or, the LAO suggests building up a revenue reserve for the next bust. Since California experiences “boom and bust” cycles—because of its highly volatile tax system—a reserve could protect against enormous cuts in the future.
Here’s the problem for Governor Brown. These are the same suggestions the LAO always gives and just like the many times before, the state legislature will completely ignore (or at best, give lip service) to them and focus on their own agenda. There are two ways this looming battle could end up. 1) It could bolster his “I’m being the reasonable steward of California’s finances” if he holds his ground against a crusading liberal legislature or 2) it could completely discredit his positioning if he succumbs to his inner-liberal self. We’ll find out on June 15.