A "Comprehensive" Budget Deal Is... ?

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KQED/John Myers

The leader of one of California's most influential interest groups dipped his feet oh so carefully into the budget debate for the first time this morning, hinting that current talks of mixing cuts and taxes just might... might... be worth eventual support.

But he was careful to never explicitly say so.

Allan Zaremberg, president and CEO of the powerful California Chamber of Commerce, invited reporters over this morning to talk about the state of things regarding California's budget saga. And the one thing the politically savvy Zaremberg said his group, and Californians everywhere want, is a "comprehensive" plan.

In fact, by my count, the Cal Chamber leader used that term -- a "comprehensive" plan -- 29 times in a chat that lasted about 30 minutes, both politely passing on an explicit definition or whether Brown's $26 billion deficit solution meets the standard.

Nonetheless, the Q&A left a clear impression that two things are not abhorrent to Zaremberg and, perhaps by extension, to the state's most powerful business interests: a budget with some kind of taxes, and an election where voters are asked to consider the issue.

Let's take the second one first -- a budget election in June.

"The governor, I believe, is following through on a commitment that helped him get elected and that resonated with the voters," said Zaremberg. "And I appreciate that very much."

It's important to remember that the state chamber was one of the key backers of the 2009 special election on budget issues, one which flopped at the ballot box. The chamber's president today invoked 2009 several times as providing both good and bad lessons. But he seemed to signal that, in his view, the defeat of the budget package wasn't tied to the tax extensions -- the very same extensions on income, sales, and vehicle taxes Brown wants to place on the ballot again.

"We thought these [taxes] were the least harmful," he said. "They were broad based."

Zaremberg's careful comments come on the heels of yet another report that a few Republicans are, in fact, negotiating with the governor on something that would compel them to ratify a special election including additional tax revenues.

And perhaps the most lasting element to the Cal Chamber leader's comments may be the impact on those talks, as he seemed intent on giving political cover to those legislators who are willing to push beyond their party orthodoxy.

"If they participate in a solution that is comprehensive and helps solve the budget crisis," he said, "there'll be support for them in their communities when they're subject to criticism for participating in solving the state's budget crisis."

And again, going back to 2009, the state chamber stepped in to defend then GOP Assemblymember Anthony Adams, whose vote for the tax hike led to an unsuccessful recall attempt but also to his decision to leave office.

Read today's careful chat with the press as you will, but it will no doubt keep the wheels moving at the Capitol as the March 10 deadline approaches. Zaremberg said what the public and businesses need is "certainty" about the state's finances and the road ahead for everything ranging from K-12 school cuts to taxes.

And in his only real attempt to define the word of the day... he said this:

"Comprehensive is what gets bipartisan support," he said. "It cuts across party lines."

Update -- The governor's press office sent this statement from Brown on Zaremberg's comments: "I welcome the forthright and positive message of the California Chamber of Commerce. It is apparent that momentum is now building for a bipartisan budget solution that includes spending cuts and a temporary extension of current taxes."

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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.
  • rk

    The Anthony Adams recall “failed” attempt was fixed they couldnt prove the so called failed valitity rate and it the people who ran the recall where to persue legal action it would have ended up a waste of money because when they started Mr Adams stated he wouldnt run for re-election and took a non-elected job that still gets paid tax-payer dollars without us being able to remove him because he was appointed to some usless board/commettiee.

    so he was rewarded for his vote to pass the biggest tax hike in US history on the highest taxed state in the union. Guess what it didnt fix the problem, here we are 2 years later saying “oh, sorry we still need these tax increases because we dont know how to manage our money or services”.

    These taxes are anything but temporary – I date anybody to name one time our elected leaders passed and removed a temporary tax in CA.