As the gulf appeared to widen over the weekend between Gov. Jerry Brown and Republican lawmakers, Democratic legislative leaders said they are poised to pursue options aside from seeking GOP support for a special election to help solve California's budget deficit.
After months of discussions but no real progress, budget negotiations appeared to reach an impasse after Senate Minority Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, released a list of more than 50 policy and budget reforms Republicans want in exchange for their votes on Brown's plan.
The GOP wish-list covered a broad range of proposals including converting public employee pensions to 401(k)-style plans, tying future state spending to inflation, restoring funding for county fairs and moving next year's presidential primary to March, rather than June as Democrats would like.
In a statement posted on his website over the weekend, Dutton said Democrats' rejection of GOP ideas "proves that they were never serious about a true bipartisan budget, but instead are only interested in Republicans giving in to their demands for more taxes."
He called the Republican requests "small but important changes" and necessary reforms to fix California's long-term budget problems.
Brown campaigned for governor last year on a pledge that he would ask voters to decide about any tax increases. He had hoped to have a special election in June to ask voters for a five-year renewal of temporary tax increases enacted two years ago. The Democratic governor wants to solve the nearly $27 billion deficit by balancing the tax extensions with about $14 billion in spending cuts and fund transfers, some of which he signed into law last
The Republican counteroffer included limiting the extensions of the increased sales, personal income and vehicle taxes to 18 months instead of five years, but doing so would leave the state billions of dollars short for implementing another of Brown's plans.
The governor also wants to shift a host of responsibilities from the state to local governments, believing cities and counties can handle them more efficiently.
Republicans oppose much of that plan, which includes transferring some inmates to county jails and supervision. They also oppose Brown's plan to eliminate redevelopment agencies, which have been criticized as grab-bags for developers that rob schools, law enforcement, fire departments and other community services of local tax revenue. Many local government officials praise redevelopment agencies as one of their best tools for kick-starting
construction projects and rejuvenating rundown areas.
The GOP leaders also want to ask Californians to vote on reducing public pensions and setting a state spending cap.
County clerks, who would be responsible for organizing a special election, have warned that time is running out. Most have said they would need 88 days to comply with state laws, print and mail out ballots, and find poll workers _ which would mean an end-of-June election even if a deal were struck in the next few days. Brown and the Democrats originally had hoped for a June 7 election.
Talks appeared to stalled after Dutton and Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, released their list of demands late Friday.
Brown "was presented with a thorough outline, which reiterates our priorities, including: getting our state back on track by reining in runaway spending; controlling unsustainable public employee pensions; getting people back to work; protecting and improving our state's public education system; and making critical adjustments to the governor's flawed budget," the two lawmakers said in a joint statement.
Dutton's involvement marked a change in direction for his caucus. A separate group of five GOP senators had been meeting with Brown to discuss their demands to roll back pensions, place a cap on state spending in future budgets and reform regulations for business. Some of those senators said Friday they had turned negotiations over to Dutton and Huff, who is vice-chairman of the Senate budget committee.
Democrats, who have a majority in both houses, need two GOP votes in each house of the Legislature to put the tax extensions on the ballot. It's not clear whether the Republican caucus in the Assembly will provide two votes.
Democratic legislative leaders are now hinting that without major progress in the talks, they may try to approve the special election on a simple majority vote, a move that would almost certainly be challenged in court because legislative ballot measures require a two-thirds majority. The Senate and Assembly were on call until the next regularly scheduled session on Tuesday.
Democrats also could introduce an all-cuts budget, which would include billions of dollars more from schools, or try to qualify an independent initiative on the tax extensions for a special electionthis November.
Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, appeared frustrated after learning of the detailed GOP wish list.
"I think this takes us clearly to a point where we will quickly have to decide whether or not to pursue solutions that do not require Republican votes,'' he said. If Republicans don't want to compromise, he said, "they'll force us to act as if they are not parties to this discussion."
Brown has alternated between condemning what he sees as excessive demands from Republicans and striking an optimistic tone about the possibility of a deal.
He did not comment after receiving the list of 53 Republican demands, but his spokesman, Gil Duran, said the governor had expected the issues to narrow after months of talks, "not to expand beyond the borders of what is possible."
He said it was not realistic for a minority party to expect to get 53 things ``for the price of one" a vote to put tax extensions on the ballot.
"That being said, we have a governor who's eminently reasonable, and he's going to continue to talk and work to find the common ground and the issues that we might be able to reach agreement on, because the stakes are very high and the people of California will truly suffer the consequences of these cuts if they do not get the chance to vote on whether or not to extend current taxes," he said.