New Governor, Familiar Fight?

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AP/Steve Yeater

One wonders how much longer the relatively civil political climate that's dominated state politics these last few weeks can continue.

In fact, there's a case to be made that it ended Monday night... when Governor Jerry Brown publicly prodded legislative Republicans, and they quickly fired back.

Brown's State of the State speech, slightly over 14 minutes in length, seemed to aim at drawing in the public at large while also challenging legislators to give that same public a chance to vote on solutions to the state's $25 billion budget shortfall.

"It would be unconscionable to tell the electors of this state that they have no right to decide whether it is better to extend current tax statutes another five years or chop another $12 billion out of schools, public safety, our universities and our system of caring for the most vulnerable," said the governor.

Brown sought to make the issue one of basic democratic rights, going so far as to compare the right of Californians to vote on additional taxes to the current struggles in Egypt and Tunisia.

Maybe that was the part that got Republicans so riled up.

"You heard what I heard," said Assembly GOP Leader Connie Conway. "It's always about the taxes."

Others were more critical. "The governor and legislative Democrats are throwing around nothing but hyperbole and scare tactics to justify doubling your car tax and raising your sales and income taxes," said state Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark) in an emailed statement.

In interviews on the Assembly floor, Republicans also worked to debunk the idea that there should be a special statewide election in 2011.

"Right now the Legislature is capable of making the decisions that need to be made," said Senate GOP Leader Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga).

Dutton also reiterated a common GOP theme that Democrats are the ones who, as the majority party, need to be driving the discussion. He also accused Democrats of dragging their feet on cuts in December, only to then embrace program cuts under a governor of their own party.

The Senate GOP leader also seemed skeptical of last week's statewide poll showing some two-thirds of those surveyed support having a special statewide election on budget issues.

"I'd have to take a look at the cross-tabs [of the poll] and everything else," said Dutton when asked if he disputes the poll's findings. "Polls can be misleading."

Then, seeming a bit frustrated with the questions, he took aim at the press.

"I don't understand why it is that the media has such a hard time with the idea that the people in 2009 said no," said Dutton in reference to the last special election. "They [also] said it in this last election... and then, because somebody does another poll and at this point in time, you all of a sudden think that's a different kind of mandate."

Democrats, meantime, pounced on Governor Brown's comments in the speech asking opponents of taxes to put forward a plan of all spending cuts.

"I think the first thing for [Republicans] is to put some pen to paper," said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

And Brown himself continued to push that point in comments after his speech. Yes, after the speech. The governor lingered on the Assembly floor chatting with reporters.

How the governor's speech will be received by the public, and whether he follows it up with a full blown 'inside/outside' strategy (working both the Capitol and the statewide stump at the same time) remains to be seen.

Regardless, there are now only about six weeks to push forward the idea of a June statewide election. And in conversations with several Democratic legislators after the speech, it became clear that they must decide how much time -- if any -- to leave for some sort of 'Plan B,' some fallback strategy if Republicans either remain opposed to a special election of any sort... or... insist on linking policy proposals that would collapse Democratic support for a budget full of cuts those legislators already hate.

"The times call out for vision and for discipline," said the governor in his speech. We'll see if there's time for either.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • flicka47

    Senator Bob Dutton would be correct on that poll.

    When asked about the individual taxes in that poll they were rejected at about the 65% level (there was 3 questions on the poll asking about those taxes being extended). The main question was worded in such a way that folks were lead to believe that schools would lose money without the extentions…

  • Earl Richards

    There is very little difference between Brown’s budget proposals and previous budgets, because Brown’s budget is master-minded by the oil industry. There is no provision for closing corporate and commercial tax loopholes, no oil extraction tax and no oil corporation, windfall-profits tax. Californians pay the highest price for gasoline in the nation. Brown’s budget is the same, because again, it picks on the most vulnerable. Jerry appears to be working for Big Oil and not for the Californians who voted for him.