Is An All-Cuts Budget Ahead?

FEB. 25, 2011


SACRAMENTO — There is never a dull moment with California Gov. Jerry Brown. In a surprise visit to a budget committee meeting yesterday, Brown threatened to produce a budget that cuts $26.6 billion from state services if legislators do not vote to put his tax extensions on the June ballot, and voters do not approve the tax increases.

Marking the first time in nearly five decades that a sitting governor has testified before the Legislature, Brown said he was disappointed with Republicans for signing pledges refusing to vote for his budget because of the proposed tax increases.

“People voted overwhelmingly for my platform,” Brown said, after chastising 30 Republicans who announced they will not vote for his budget. “Then why are you here? It’s not American to say no to vote.”

Brown asked legislators several times to share their budget ideas with him, reiterating that “an honest budget is painful.” But Brown also told lawmakers he expected them to come up with a balanced plan.

“When you folks say, ‘No. No vote. No plan. No,’ that’s not American. It’s not acceptable, and it’s not loyalty to California,” Brown said. “Time is running out for California and the country, with political squabbling all the time,” and then reminded Republicans that they are supposed to be tough.

Despite his tough talk and challenges, Brown received some push back from Republicans. Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, took Brown to task for saying that Republicans are the “no” party. “We are saying ‘yes’ to all of the cuts,’ Harkey said. “I’m very hurt and insulted that you say we always say no. But you want us to say ‘yes’ to more taxes. We just can’t support this.”

Harkey told Brown that he has 2,000 bills headed for his desk from legislators, most of them adding regulations. “We are killing the state’s private sector employment with regulations,” said Harkey. “Businesses are fleeing across the border to Yuma. I mean, how desperate can you be?”

The crux of Brown’s appearance was to warn that if he is forced into a cuts-only budget, it would probably result in cutting four or five weeks out of the school year.

“I want to make one thing clear, and that’s another reason I came here: If we don’t get the tax extensions, I am not going to sign a budget that is not an all-cuts budget — and it’s going to be turbulent,” said Brown.

“I think we’ve got to meet the moment of truth now. And it’s either the tax extensions and the $12 billion [in cuts], or it’s $25 billion [in cuts] or as close to that as we’re going to get. And if we can’t do that, then maybe we don’t get a budget,” Brown warned.

But while Brown’s message was dire, he did provide some comic relief.

In the late 1950’s, Brown attended a Jesuit seminary, intending to become a Catholic priest. However, he left and went to the University of California, Berkeley, graduating in 1961. Brown joked with the committee about the no-tax budget pledge signed by 30 Republicans, and said he has had a lot of experience with pledges and vows, as he took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as a seminarian, which were later withdrawn after receiving a dispensation.

“Any Republican that wants a dispensation, they should come down to my office. It took the pope to do that, but I want you to know we can set up a process where we can dispense people from pledges,” Brown joked.

It was obvious that Legislators were pleased to have the governor make the special appearance, and several noted that Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, never once did so, nor did he even willingly meet with legislators over budget differences.

But even with the jocularity, Brown stressed several times to Republicans that they should at least send the tax proposal to voters.

Brown even suggested that legislators place the tax measure on the ballot and then campaign against it, which would allow them to generate additional donations.

The budget hearings continue Friday, Feb. 25, at 10:00 a.m. Committee chairman Bob Blumenfield, D-San Fernando Valley, has warned that hearings could go through the weekend, and asked legislators to remain on-call.

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