Commentary: Jerry Brown's budget plans

Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman avoid specifics when talking about how they'd deal with California's budget crisis, but are verbosely specific when dueling over how Brown handled state finances during his governorship three decades ago.

Brown boasts of cutting taxes by $4 billion, while Whitman accuses him of raising taxes and leaving the state with a deficit when he left office in 1983. Technically, neither is lying, although both are misleading.

Brown did cut state income taxes in 1978, declaring himself to be a "born-again tax cutter" after Proposition 13 passed. But he also signed a relatively tiny boost in gasoline and other auto-related taxes to bolster highway spending, which is separate from the general fund. And he approved a dollar-for-dollar swap of business inventory taxes and corporate income taxes at the behest of the business community.

However, as the state assumed $6 billion a year in new burdens for financing schools and local services after Proposition 13 passed, Brown's income tax cut left the state unable to cover the added expense. So he willed successor George Deukmejian a $1.5 billion 1982-83 budget deficit.

The irrefutable details of that era may be found in a state Department of Finance spreadsheet of income and outgo over the last 60 years.

It begins in the 1950-51 fiscal year, when California had 10.6 million residents and the state general fund budget was $587 million, and ends with the 2010-11 fiscal year, when the state has 38 million residents and a still-unsettled budget of about $83 billion.

To read the complete column, visit www.sacbee.com.