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Gov. Brown Debates Lawmakers In Rare Budget Exchange

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California Governor Jerry Brown looks on before delivering the State of the State address at the California State Capitol on January 31, 2011 in Sacramento, California.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California Governor Jerry Brown looks on before delivering the State of the State address at the California State Capitol on January 31, 2011 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — In an unprecedented public give-and-take, Gov. Jerry Brown appeared before a legislative committee Thursday and engaged rank-and-file lawmakers in a discussion about how to address California’s $26.6 billion budget deficit.

   The Democratic governor is trying to sell lawmakers on his proposal for a June special election that would allow voters to decide on a five-year extension of increases to state sales, income and vehicle taxes.

   The hour-long hearing was remarkable for the frankness of the exchanges between the governor and lawmakers that gave the public a wide-open look at what typically is a closed-door process.

   “I believe in this situation that a check in with the people is absolutely mandatory — mandatory not just to say, do we extend taxes. But it’s also to get people’s acceptance if we’re going to have all these cuts,” Brown told the joint committee formed to reconcile the Assembly and Senate versions of Democratic budget bills.

   “Because if you’re going to have $25 billion in cuts and you’re going to cut four or five weeks of the school (year), then I think people are going to be shocked if you didn’t ask their permission,” the governor said.

   He told Democrats they would have to accept more spending cuts and advised Republicans that authorizing a special election is not the same as voting for tax increases.

   On Wednesday, 29 of the 42 Republicans in the Legislature announced they had formed a “Taxpayers Caucus” to oppose the special election unless voters also are given a chance to enact a tax cut of equal or larger value.

   The temporary increases to the sales, income and vehicles taxes were approved in 2009 to address that year’s deficit but are set to expire this year.

   Brown has proposed spending cuts that are roughly equal to the amount of revenue that would be raised if voters authorized the extension of the tax increases.

   Brown said Republican pledges to avoid tax increases “make good theater,” but the state is desperate for a solution to its ongoing budget problems.

   “For those who say they don’t want to vote, then why are you here? And if you’re going to be here, give me some ideas,” the governor said to lawmakers on the committee.

   (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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