Brown Cajoles, GOP Demurs

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When a governor sets up camp just outside the doors of a legislative chamber and wages a full court press to get something approved, it's usually a pretty big deal. But can such a dramatic gesture be pulled off more than once?

Governor Jerry Brown no doubt hopes the answer is yes, because Wednesday's old fashioned cajoling and browbeating failed to win over enough legislative support for the first round of bills in his $26.6 billion deficit fix.

The hump day of the week ended just before 9:30 p.m., when it apparently became clear that the last -- and most talked about -- bill that was supposed to pass the Assembly in round #1 would not: the governor's push to abolish redevelopment agencies and shift the money to other programs.

Redevelopment has been the true battle royale of a 2011 budget fight that's been full of dramatic and, for some, devastating proposals. Its supporters have warned of both economic stagnation and looming lawsuits, but have never offered an alternative that Brown would accept.

The governor spent much of Wednesday afternoon holed up in the office of Assembly Speaker John Perez, just a short walk from the green carpet of the Assembly floor. One by one, legislators were summoned to chat with Brown in private after the bill to nix redevelopment agencies (RDAs) initially stalled. The arm twisting apparently worked on Democrats, as the reluctant few who passed on casting a vote at first ultimately joined the majority on abolishing some 400 RDAs across the state.

But the governor needed 54 votes in the Assembly to actually get the property tax money now allocated to RDAs, and there are only 52 Dems in the lower house. His plan quickly drew the support of Republican Chris Norby, an Orange County assemblymember who's been a critic of redevelopment agencies longer than he's been in Sacramento. But try as he might, Governor Brown never got that last GOP vote for the plan. And that's where things ended.

A number of budget cutting bills were approved by both chambers -- including deep cuts to programs from welfare assistance to Medi-Cal to those for the developmentally disabled. Republicans agreed to provide the necessary supermajority for those proposals, but usually only after every single Democrat cast an 'aye' vote.

(Could those bills have been majority vote proposals, some wondered? No, came the answer from Dems, who offered explanations ranging from the current year cuts needing a supermajority 'urgency' clause to an insistence that GOP pols have some skin in the game, too.)

Assembly Republicans, in particular, took the position in floor debate that had Democrats only agreed to other changes, social programs would have been saved. Assemblymember Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) said Republicans would have preferred to find savings in public employee pensions and the expense of illegal immigration. Assemblymember Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita) suggested halting bond sales or approving offshore drilling before cutting developmental disabilty services.

Dems dismissed such talk, with Assembly Budget Chair Bob Blumenfield (D-LA) likening it to the search for unicorns. And so the debate went on.

Reporters who caught up with the governor after it all went down offered quotes from Brown that sounded a bit exasperated. "There's some plan that the more things are derailed, the better it is," said the Guv in referring to GOP reluctance to strike a deal.

(Probably didn't help that Wednesday was First Lady Anne Gust Brown's birthday, where it looks like she had to settle for a cake at the office and no night on the town.)

Both houses will reconvene at 11:00 a.m. Thursday, whereupon we're told they'll start back at it. Of course, none of this resolves the larger, lingering problem: GOP refusal to go along with placing a tax extension on a June special statewide ballot. That $11 billion extension remains the key to the governor's entire deficit reduction package.

And some of the tax's supporters -- notably those who support programs that would be cut even further without the tax revenues -- are getting worried about even having that election. A private poll done for one education group found that while voters, on first blush, would go along with the tax extension... more were persuaded by a "politicians should cut wasteful spending" argument against the taxes than were a "even deeper cuts" argument for the taxes.

In other words, a well-funded opposition campaign to the taxes could easily doom the measure... which would mean a major loss for those counting on a win at the ballot box.

Everyone should get some rest. The next few days at the Capitol are likely to be long ones.

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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.
  • Gabriel Petek

    Great summary. Why have you been referring to $11 billion in tax extensions lately? I thought the Gov’s proposal calls for $12 billion (net of Prop 98 increases) in revenue from the tax extensions?

  • John Myers

    Great question, and a chance to offer folks some more info on the tax revenues in the package.

    The short answer is that not all the revenues must go on the ballot; as such, the $11 billion represents the portion that voters must authorize… not the entire revenue proposal.

    A spreadsheet provide by the Department of Finance lays out Governor Brown’s revenue package as follows (these are for 2010-11 and 2011-12 combined):

    Repeal Enterprise Zones: $924 million
    Repeal elective Singles Sales Factor (business tax break): $1.41 billion
    Maintain personal income tax Surcharge: $3.264 billion
    Maintain lower personal income tax dependent exemption: $1.973 billion
    Other General Fund revenues: $258.2 million
    Maintain 6% Sales Tax: $4.549 billion
    Maintain 1.15% Vehicle License Fee: $1.382 billion
    Other Special Fund revenues: $257.2 million

    The above proposals give you a gross revenue total of just over $14 billion. Then subtract $1.99 billion, which via the formulas in Proposition 98 goes directly to K-14 education, and you’ve got about $12 billion in revenues. That’s your number.

    But when you take just the tax revenues that would go on a June special election ballot — the income, sales, and vehicle tax extensions — you get roughly $11 billion.

    So, in a sense, we’re both right. I tend to focus on the $11 billion, because that’s the amount the voters could either ratify or reject. The remaining revenues, however, still take a supermajority vote of each house… which means Republicans are, in fact, being asked in a few cases to actually vote for taxes, rather than voting for an election on the issue of taxes. (For the GOP, of course, that appears to be a distinction without a difference.)

  • Ken Hunter

    Missing from the list above is the elimination of any State agenies. The elimination of at least 25,000 completely unneed bureaucrats. This is not a call for smaller, limited government that is necesary for prosperity to return to California. Where is the reduction of tax rates, regulations and vehicle license fees that are neccesary to attract business growth in California?

    When Prop 23 failed. Prop 25 passed and Brown became Governor, California was doomed to permanent depression.

    The return of prosperity to America after King Obama and his commie czars will be enjoyed by some states and not by others. Why is it that Unions want tax increases and tax payers do not.? Who died and left them our boss?

    Where are the throngs of non union taxpayers demanding for their taxes to be increased? Take a look outside the capitol, there are none. Our republic has been hyjacked by the corrupt partnership of the unions and the democrats.
    This has bankrupted our state and our nation. If I were a part of wither group, I would start softly back peddling and take the high road of hunility in the face of a guilty vote by the jury. The corrupt marriage between the Democrats and the unions does not represent American Exceptionalism, but rather the shame of selfishness, arrogance and greed.

    While their is indeed hope for America as a nation to overcome the ravages of environmentalism, “equality”, democrats and unions – there is no such hope for California.

    Maximise Your Freedom – Minimize Your Government

  • Ken Hunter

    Spelling correction – “Maximize” Your Freedom. I would like to add that the reason Democrats and Brown have so readily and recently embraced cutting spending on items that disaportionally harm of the poorest in our State is to create a larger pool of voters to be in favor of tax increases. The spending cuts that are needed is in reducing the government agencies, regulations and the number of non productive bureaucrats. California State government has grown so uncontollably large that is now almost funny to watch it begin to cannibalize itself.

    California is being held hostage by two school buses of union owned legislators. Looking forward to the day when all of them will comfortably fit into one SHORT BUS.

    Maximize Your Freedom – Limit Your Government

  • hello

    Karen–Realignment will further shrink state government by transferring the responsibility to the counties. That measure was voted on yesterday and passed. It means layoffs at the state level.

  • John Myers

    To “Hello”: realignment proposal was not passed yesterday. It remains one of the proposals to be dealt with today.

  • hello

    @John– You’re right. Some of the bills they passed yesterday included the structure for realignment but not realignment itself. @Karen–Now they passed realignment and that means state employees will lose their jobs. I believe the Governor proposed to shrink the state workforce by 25%.