Voters inspired signing of pledge, Achadjian says

Republican Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian denied this week that pressure from conservatives prompted him to sign a no-tax pledge, saying he did so instead to assure voters that he was a “man of his word.”

But weeks before he took the pledge, Achadjian told The Tribune’s editorial board he wouldn’t sign such a promise.

The former San Luis Obispo County supervisor, who served 12 years on the board, crafted himself as the compromise-seeking “man in the middle” — though that image changed later in his tenure as he began to increasingly side with the more conservative supervisors.

While campaigning to represent the Central Coast in the state Assembly, Achadjian told The Tribune editorial board last spring that he would not sign a pledge to oppose raising taxes. A short time later, he signed the pledge.

Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform Taxpayer Protection Pledge — taken by all but two of the Republicans in the state Legislature — may make it more difficult for Gov. Jerry Brown to pass a budget proposal that includes asking voters to extend taxes scheduled to expire at the end of June.

Achadjian said his decision to sign the pledge wasn’t because of criticism from conservative bloggers after his comments to the paper’s editorial board were published.

“If I’m telling everybody I’m not for taxes and new regulations, what’s the difference with signing something?” Achadjian said.

Achadjian, who does not support extending the taxes, said California voters have already made it clear they don’t want a continuation of taxes.

“How many times are taxpayers going to say no before we get the message?” Achadjian said. “The only way you can generate more revenue is by being more business friendly.”

Achadjian gave few specific areas where he would cut spending to close the budget gap, mentioning auditing state services to ensure money is not being wasted.

Instead, Achadjian proposed business-friendly ideas long brought forward by his party as solutions to the state’s cyclical budget dilemma, including giving businesses incentives to open or remain in California.

Achadjian also opposes Brown’s proposal to dissolve redevelopment agencies throughout the state, saying the increased property tax revenues from improved areas benefit schools as well as public agencies. Five cities in San Luis Obispo County have redevelopment agencies.

“I would have much rather seen a budget on the basis of what we have and then come up with proposals,” he said.

Opponents react

Locally, Achadjian’s former political opponents are disappointed and surprised by his decision to sign the pledge.

Former Santa Maria City Councilwoman Hilda Zacarias, a Democrat who lost to Achadjian in November, said extending the current tax structure “is the most realistic approach to how you solve the big budget issues in California,” because deep cuts are already proposed for social services.

“I’m hopeful that Katcho will think about and return to his position of not signing the no-tax pledge,” she said. “If he’s willing to change once, maybe he’ll be willing to change again.”

Conservative Matt Kokkonen, who finished third to Achadjian in the primary election, said Achadjian’s decision to sign the pledge surprised him.

“I can’t attribute motives to him,” Kokkonen said, “but I was surprised because that was his clear position — that he did not want to commit to something (because) he didn’t know how the future was going to play out.”

A well-read conservative blog had criticized Kokkonen as well in early June for not signing the pledge; Kokkonen said he hadn’t realized he hadn’t signed it and did so as soon as it was brought to his attention.