Does Brown's Budget Have a Pulse?

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Shortly after Senate Republicans, even those who have been negotiating with Governor Jerry Brown, told reporters that they wouldn't vote to conditionally extend Brown's tax package, the so-called "bridge" plan, the leader of the Senate's majority party offered the quote of the day.

"Is Plan A dead?" Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg rhetorically asked about Brown's proposal. "You know, I'll leave it to the governor to announce the wake and the funeral services."

That tells you really all you need to know about a budget standoff that seems to be growing more testy by the day. Granted, there's a long Sacramento tradition of the nastiest comments being made just before a deal is struck; venerable columnist George Skelton laid it out quite nicely back in 2009.

But this impasse, after last week's historic budget veto, is now a three way affair: the Democratic governor, legislative Democrats, and legislative Republicans. Yes, the Dems may not be not too far apart, but it's a lot to fix with the fiscal year ending a week from tonight.

Republicans in the Senate held a press event in front of Brown's Capitol office this morning to jab both the governor (knowing he wouldn't come out, as he was in San Francisco for a speech) and legislative Democrats.

GOP leaders quickly cut off questions from reporters (two from this pesky blogging reporter). But not before one of the senators who's been negotiating with the Guv and Dems -- state Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto) -- seemed to issue the final word on Brown's quest for a "tax bridge."

"There's new revenues coming in all the time," said Berryhill, in reference to an unprojected surge in revenues. "We as a group feel that there's not the need for a bridge at this point in time."

Without that "bridge," any election on the issue of taxes becomes a straight tax increase -- as the sales and vehicle taxes in question go down in eight days absent a legislative extension. And almost everyone has said the idea of an 'increase' is a fatal political blow.

Of course, there's some policy evidence to suggest Brown's Plan A is already effectively dead. The state Board of Equalization recently opined that there's no longer time to ask California's 1 million-plus retailers to rejigger their sales tax calculations in time for July 1.

But don't tell any of this to Governor Brown.

"I'm not giving up. I will keep working to get those tax extensions," Brown told reporters in San Francisco after his speech to the Pacific Coast Builders Conference. The governor said he had spoken with Sen. Berryhill just last night, and said that "This stuff changes."

Perhaps. But the one thing Jerry Brown no longer has is time. When you look back at his statements during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, it's an arguable point that Brown has had from November 3 -- the day after being elected -- until now to strike some kind of deal. That's 232 days.

Sure, he didn't have a fully thought out budget plan back then. But he clearly knew the general parameters of the fight: taxes versus pensions/business regulations/etc. And while garnering praise from lots of corners, the governor has never found the 'sweet spot' between the two sides.

Notwithstanding Brown's reported comments of an alternative budget already in the works, it seems likely that he'll keep the patient on life support all the way up until next Friday, the first day of the new 2011-2012 fiscal year.

Or might he keep pursuing the tax issue, even when they're officially called tax increases?

"I'm not giving up," Brown said today on the taxes. "And we will get them, one way or the other."

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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.
  • Peter

    Jerry Brown suffers from a common ailment among the elderly: he’s hopelessly set in his ways. He just cannot get his remarkable intellect to embrace the fact that the Republicans elected after the 2000 redistricting have a very different vision of government than his. They have been very clear over the years in both their remarks and legislation, yet Brown drags this fool’s errand out interminably, “negotiating” with intransigent and united Republican legislators, even after they jerk him around with their last-minute lists of 53 demands and other conditions that would permanently remake State government into the image of the 35% GOP minority and offend the 65% Democratic majority, and all that for a mere public vote to extend some tax rates for a few years.