Brown's Here to Eternity... AKA March 31

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Getty/Justin Sullivan

In football terms, Governor Jerry Brown got to the 50-yard line last week, but now seems to be facing a second or third down situation with only a few ticks left on the clock.

All of which means the coach is likely looking at his playbook and seeing only a few options: stick with the game plan that got him here, try a sneak play, or launch a Hail Mary.

Brown meet with Democratic legislative leaders briefly this afternoon, and is scheduled to address the California Labor Federation's legislative conference tonight.

(And yes, the cyberworld is full of punditry about the Guv using the speech for a 'Nixon goes to China' moment of tough love for organized labor.)

But the reality is that private talks, if there are any substantive ones, have yet to produce fruit, and both houses are on call for most of this week. Until something big breaks, the next few days are going to feel like an eternity -- again, sort of like the end of a big football game.

With the state GOPalooza now behind him (often mused to be a hindrance to any deal), Brown likely faces a small number of options to striking a deal on the state's $26.6 billion deficit.

Keep On Keepin' On: The governor, would no doubt, like to win with the game plan he chose from the outset -- get the GOP to help him put the $11 billion tax extension on the ballot.

That was certainly the message from this video he taped and quickly posted on YouTube last night -- his first foray into the cyber-fireside chats that his predecessor loved so much. "This is a matter that's too big and too irreversible to leave just to those you have elected," he said sternly in support of a June statewide election. "This is a time when the people themselves can gather together in a special election and make the hard choice."

But the governor's 'call your legislator' plea comes long after each and every one of those legislators has no doubt pondered the pros and cons of the tax election.

(Note: in the video, the governor says that a June election would allow voters to decide "the most fundamental matters," but the election really would only be: do you want to extend current law income, sales, and vehicle tax rates, or not? The budget cuts, for example, would not be on the ballot.)

Whether enough Republicans remain willing to negotiate with Brown at this point seems unclear, and at least one of those legislators said this weekend he's not sure the Guv wants to, either. Regardless, this set of plays is no gimme on the path to, um, winning.

Tell The Linebacker To Look The Other Way: Some inside the Capitol are urging the governor to employ the time-honored 'pick off' strategy, where rather than a negotiated deal with a few Republicans on policy, he seek out those who might want something more individualized. Judgeship? Seat on a six-figure board or commission? Sweetener for the district back home? The last real use of this play was in the summer of 2001 (2009's deal was struck with GOP leaders, not rank-and-file pols), and it's not an easy one to pull off. In fact, some argue that the power of interest groups now trumps the power of governors to twist the arms of anyone in the opposite party, and Brown certainly didn't fare well last week in trying to cajole enough GOP votes on the issue of abolishing redevelopment agencies.

Picket Fence Anyone? Statue of Liberty? Then there's the time-honored tradition of, ahem, creative budget balancing. State worker payday shifts, projected savings that are almost impossible to realize, etc. This one seems to be most at odds with Governor Brown's raison d’être to voters in 2010. And in fact, he reiterated his opposition to it in last night's video: "You've been treated with evasions and gimmicks, smoke and mirrors, and it's time to balance our books."

The Hail Mary. Everyone Go Long!: And then there's the strategy some have opined about for weeks, one which Brown has never said he'd consider... but seems to have never quite ruled out, either -- a legal maneuver to place the tax extension measure in front of the voters on a majority vote of each house, thus cutting out any need for Republican deals. The leader of the Senate GOP caucus actually went so far as to ask the Legislature's lawyers for an opinion on the issue last month. "We think a court would conclude that the legislative proposal would only require a majority vote," says the letter. That's not to say someone won't challenge it in court, but legal challenges have become commonplace for the budget process. The real question, though, is how soon a ballot measure crafted by Democrats can head to the voters? Majority vote bills typically take 90 days to take effect, and that would imply that June 21 is the earliest an election of this type could take place.

Granted, there may be some other plays for getting down the football field that Coach Brown has ready to call in to his team. But all of them, except for the 'cuts only' budget (and that's hard to see passing muster with Dems) will require swift action. And while Brown clearly wants a bipartisan agreement, there's no record I can find of him actually promising that during his gubernatorial campaign.

The end of March is right around the corner. But it feels like we're all going to age a few months (or dog years?) between then and now.

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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.
  • Paul

    Let’s hope that if it comes down to the Hail Mary pass, he throws like Doug Flutie and not Billy Kilmer!

  • whathappened

    While I was pondering your article I drew a dot puzzle based on the subject. At first I couldn’t see it because of a bright glare at the bottom but then I realized I had it upside down. When I connected the dots it turned out to be a bald head I then saw the figure had an arm extended with a fist that had only one finger. Guess who that was, the caption read what I think of California