Budget Road Show: Those Darn Taxes

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"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."

It's a great line from a great movie.

And in politics, it's used to convey the sleight of hand that's so common when it comes to fiery campaign rhetoric that occasionally doesn't fit with the nitty gritty of governing.

That tactic may very well be at the heart of Governor Schwarzenegger's latest Budget Armageddon Road Show, which touched down in Fresno on Friday and in Los Angeles this morning. Schwarzenegger certainly wants to make the point, and rightly so, that the impasse here in Sacramento is threatening dozens of important public works projects around the state. Not to mention the state's fiscal survival.

But both events seemed to force Schwarzenegger to borrow a page from the Wiz, by directing attention toward the impacts of the impasse... and away, somewhat, from the solutions to the impasse.

And yes, we're talking about the T word... taxes.... or, ummm, the more family friendly R word: revenues.

"They passed legislation with a whole bunch of high taxes, to punish you," said the governor on Friday, "as if they didn't do anything wrong, you did something wrong."

He was obviously referring to legislative Democrats and their non-Republican revenue proposal. But compare the above comment with one made today in Los Angeles by the governor:

"I'm interested in revenue increases, that's the bottom line."

Republicans have picked up on the apparent misalignment of the two statements. Balking at reports that Schwarzenegger met only with Democratic leaders on Sunday, Assembly GOP Leader Mike Villines said this in a written statement today: "We believe the Governor should instead keep his promise to the people of California and reject the Democrat tax increases."

The morale of this story: message-focused campaign events are sometimes a tough fit with with the complicated, and sometimes contradictory, world of budget negotiations.

And that leads to this question: if the governor and Democrats can, as some now believe, find a compromise on the issue of economic stimulus and spending cuts... how might the rhetoric change when it comes to the tax increase proposal?

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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