Seven days after taking office Jan. 3, California Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a bold, three-pronged approach to deal with the state’s $25.4 billion deficit: first pass legislative spending cuts, then hold a special election to extend certain tax rates, and finally send the full budget to the Legislature.
His deadline for setting this complex budget solution in motion: 60 days.
Thursday, that 60-day so-called "B-day" deadline expires. As a self-imposed deadline, there is no immediate penalty for missing it. But it does throw into doubt whether Governor Brown will be able to call his special election by June 7, which had been his plan in order to pass the full budget by the state-imposed June 15 deadline. State law requires that special elections be called 131 days before the vote.
The hangup is what it has always been: partisan wrangling. Brown’s task is to convince two-thirds of state legislators to support the special election. But Democrats are two votes shy of a two-thirds majority in the Assembly and three votes shy in the Senate, meaning Brown needs Republican support.
Republicans say there is plenty of time for legislators to come up with a budget that doesn’t include five more years of the same taxes. They don’t buy Brown’s claim that he is providing a balanced solution by closing the budget gap with $12 billion in cuts and $12 billion in tax extensions.
"Some of the 'cuts' include borrowing and one-time savings; the taxes are for five years,” says Sabrina Lockhart, spokeswoman for Republican Assemblywoman Connie Conway. She also says California voters last November already said “no” to Proposition 21, which would have increased fees for state parks, and Proposition 26, which required two-thirds voter approval for fee hikes.
“The voters are in no mood for tax hikes,” says Ms. Lockhart. “Why waste time and valuable money letting them vote on the issue?”
But Brown’s exploits to persuade Republicans are taking a page from his own playbook on the art of dealmaking. Republican state Rep. Bill Berryhill organized a Republican duck feast; Jerry Brown and wife, Ann, gate-crashed, ordered wine, and stayed for three hours.
“He can talk to you about any subject on the planet from religion to water,” Assemblyman Berryhill told the Los Angeles Times. “Whether I agree or disagree with his policy, I respect his style.”
It's the substance that is causing the problems for Republicans. “They basically created a false deadline in order to get a special election on the ballot that’s completely unnecessary,” says Mike Zimmerman, chief of staff for Republican state Rep. Martin Garrick.
Mr. Zimmerman says that some Republicans have tried to cross the aisle by offering trades with the Democrats – in the area of pension reform and hard spending caps – but that none are announced yet.
Brown hasn't abandoned hope, though. He asked lawmakers to put off voting on his budget proposal – Phase 1 of his plan – in the hopes that he can woo Republicans to support Phase 2, the special election, with a little more persuasion.
Brown spokesman Evan Westrup notes that the California secretary of State prepared a special election in 88 days in May 2009. “Jerry Brown’s negotiations with legislators are fluid and dynamic and ongoing about this, and he is still committed to getting this special election," says Mr. Westrup. "His door is open and it doesn’t matter if the deal is done in his office or at a local watering hole. A deal is a deal.”