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California budget: Have Republicans outfoxed Jerry Brown?

Republican lawmakers refuse to give in to Gov. Jerry Brown and his plan to fix the California budget through a special election on tax extensions. That leaves Brown with few palatable options.

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One would be to call a special election on a simple majority vote in the Legislature, as opposed to the two-thirds vote typical of such measures. A legislative counsel has suggested that method might be legal, but it would certainly be challenged by Republicans and might be seen by voters as legislative sleight of hand.

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Another option would be to put the measure on the November ballot. But under that approach, current tax rates will have expired, meaning Brown would then be asking voters for a tax increase, not an extension. Polls show voters are more amenable to an extension. Moreover, a November ballot would delay a final budget solution months past the June deadline, likely forcing California to issue IOUs to pay its bills.

“Brown has a few options, none of them great at this point,” says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies.

“If he and the Republicans agree on something, the unions might oppose it, and it won’t get voter approval," he says. "If he puts something on the ballot with only Democrats supporting it, he may not get public approval because it looks partisan. If he goes the initiative route, he has to wait until November when the fiscal situation will be much worse. And there may be conservative initiatives on the same ballot.”

To add to the bad news for Brown, polls show that support for the tax extension has dropped to 46 percent – down from 53 percent in January.

Brown 'still focused on Plan A'

Brown Press Secretary Gil Duran says Brown is still focused on getting Republican approval for the special election he needs. “At this point, all those stories are just anonymously sourced noise,” says Mr. Duran. “Brown’s still focused on Plan A and believes the votes he needs are in the building.”

Brown needled Republicans as he signed the $11.2 billion in budget cuts Thursday: "I find it shocking that elected representatives can so cavalierly say to people, 'Shut up, you have no right to weigh in on this.' "

Sabrina Lockhart, press secretary for Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway, counters that the Legislature must make more tough choices as opposed to falling back on tax revenues. “These ideas include ... controlling state spending with a strict spending cap and reining in soaring public pension costs,” she says.

But Brown could still have one trump card to play.

At some point soon, he will lay out his alternative to the tax extensions – further budget cuts to cover the entire $26.4 billion deficit. The cuts would be breathtaking and could force some Republicans to compromise, says Barbara O’Connor, director emeritus of the Institute for Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento.

She adds: “Brown will release his all cuts budget soon and the alarm will be palpable.”

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