SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown called on the Legislature Monday to rise above partisan differences and resist pressure from talk shows, bloggers and anti-tax advocates to pass a California budget that would close the remaining $9.6 billion deficit with temporary taxes and no additional cuts.
Both the Senate and Assembly were expected to take up budget issues Monday, although it was not clear whether they would make progress on the most contentious issue — continuing higher taxes. A voter-approved initiative taking effect this year will punish lawmakers by halting their pay if they fail to make Wednesday’s deadline for sending a balanced budget to the governor’s desk.
“We’ve got to bite the bullet. We’ve got to act as adults, rise above our own little comfort zones — whether it’s from the left or the right or the middle — and get working for California,” Brown said at a news conference.
He made his appeal as leaders of California groups representing business, labor, law enforcement and education stood by his side and pledged their support for his proposal. Many of those leaders, from across the political spectrum, said they had problems with individual aspects of Brown’s plan but they were willing to support it for the good of California.
“What we need is to get this uncertainty resolved,” said Bill Dombrowski, head of the California Retailers Association. The group traditionally has opposed higher taxes but has voted to support them in the special election Brown seeks. “What we need is to end this pain.”
Martha Fluor, president of the California School Boards Association, said she is a lifelong Republican but is “really frustrated and angry” with GOP lawmakers for opposing a budget with tax extensions.
“This is a matter of representing all in their districts, not just Republicans,” Fluor said. “The kids are suffering.”
The statutory deadline to pass a budget has been routinely missed for decades, but the governor and others hope the threat of lost pay motivates lawmakers to act. The state controller has said any missed salary and per diem payments will not be paid retroactively.
Brown said Monday that is the budget isn’t resolved by Wednesday, work would continue, even if ultimately the higher taxes must be put on the ballot by gathering signatures from the public.
“I don’t think California should be led by talk show hosts or by theorists in Washington or blog-posters,” he said. “This is about the people of California, our schools, our public safety, our environment, our economy.”
The governor posted a video message Sunday stressing that lawmakers still need four Republican votes — two in each house — to extend higher taxes and call a special tax election. Republicans have been demanding a firm state spending cap and reforms to public pensions and business regulations, and the governor has said he is close to reaching a compromise on those.
Brown and the Democratic majority also want a so-called “tax bridge” that would briefly extend temporary increases in the sales and vehicle taxes until a special election can be called, perhaps as early as September. Democratic lawmakers want those tax increases extended for the full fiscal year that begins July 1, primarily to give school districts budgeting stability.
However, Brown said Monday that the one-year bridge could be seen as a negotiating position. He also added that talks with GOP lawmakers continued over the weekend and a major new idea was raised Sunday. He would not discuss details, but joked that it would “give heartburn to environmentalists and a lot of other people.”
Ultimately, Brown wants the tax question to go before voters. He wants the increase to the sales and vehicle taxes extended for five years, and an expired increase in the personal income tax rate revived for four years. The temporary increases to all three of those taxes were approved in 2009. The sales and vehicle tax hikes will expire June 30 unless the Legislature takes steps to renew them.
The Democrats’ one-year tax bridge failed in the Senate Friday on a party line vote, and GOP leaders said none of their members would vote to extend or raise taxes directly.
The Senate passed a few relatively minor budget bills Saturday but did not touch the tax question, while the Assembly has not taken up budget matters since last week.
California started the year with a $26.6 billion budget deficit but has narrowed that to $9.6 billion, primarily through spending cuts approved by Democrats. Democratic lawmakers, the majority in both houses, say they do not want to close the remaining shortfall with spending cuts alone.
They need some Republican support to reach the two-thirds voting threshold set by state law to pass tax increases or place measures on the ballot.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)