The news is that the state Senate and the Assembly will take up the budget today.

The question is: what budget?

Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget calls for closing the state’s $26.5 billion deficit with a combination of program cuts, funding shifts and a June ballot measure that would extend some $12 billion to $14 billion in taxes and fees for five years.

Well, the Legislature’s Democrats have done their part, approving most of the cuts Brown has called for. And the governor has managed to figure out enough budget deals and program transfers (which the uninitiated might describe as gimmicks) to narrow the gap a bit more.

But unless Brown has a couple of secret GOP votes tucked into his back pocket, he’s still short of the two-thirds of the Legislature needed to put that budget measure on the special election ballot.

The governor doesn’t sound like a magician who knows for certain there’s a rabbit in the hat. Instead, he’s joining in the finger-pointing that’s been the most notable part of the state’s budget “discussions” over the past few years.

A June vote would let California voters decide whether they want more taxes or fewer services, Brown said, and why should that be a problem for anyone?

But then there are those darn Republican extremists, he told reporters Tuesday.

“The more extreme elements of the Republican Party are about to brand any Republican legislator a terrorist and some evil being if they give people the right to vote,” the governor said.

The five GOP senators who have been negotiating with the governor (over the objections of many of their colleagues) put out their own statement Tuesday talking about “the key reforms we believe are necessary.” Either they get what they want or Brown doesn’t get his ballot measure.

Those changes – a pension freeze, a permanent hard spending cap and other goodies Republicans have been seeking for years – won’t fly with Democrats, who already are none too happy with the cuts Brown has shoved down their throats.

So, back to the question: what budget?

Thanks to last November’s Prop. 25, the state budget only needs a simple majority to pass, which means Democrats can push their spending plan through without ever talking to a Republican. But without the revenue that June special election could provide, the budget is way short of being balanced.

But if Brown makes the concessions Republicans want to put the tax hike vote on the ballot, Democrats and their allies in labor are virtually guaranteed to balk.

Joe Mathews, a regular here at Fox and Hounds, suggested on another site that Democrats should just use some legislative magic that will let them put a tax vote on the ballot with a majority vote, bypassing the Republicans altogether.

Brown said last month that he wasn’t considering that route because he wasn’t sure it was legal (and was even less certain it would help him get the measure passed in June), but that attitude could change as budget deadlines draw closer.

Without the money from the tax extension, Brown has pledged to balance the budget with even deeper cuts, most likely slashing the state’s K-12 education budget and what remains of the state’s social service safety net.

But Democrats in the Legislature could barely stomach the cuts they’ve already agreed on. Double those reductions and the scene is set for a budgetary free-for-all that would pit Democrats and their allies against each other, with everyone battling to protect favored programs at the expense of someone else’s favored programs.

While the idea of standing on the sidelines and watching Democrats tear each other up sounds like a fine time for Republicans, politicians should be careful what they wish for.

To voters, it will look like the Democratic governor and the Democratic legislators have made sacrifices in a good faith effort to deal with the state’s very real budget crisis. And while the Republican legislators’ “Just Say No” approach to the budget negotiations will be a smash hit with the crowd at next weekend’s state GOP convention, it likely will be far less popular with the Democrats and independent voters who make up a solid majority of California voters.

If Republicans sit on their hands and do nothing to deal with state budget problems, they give the Democrats an easy target that can be blamed for the many woes an all-cuts budget will bring to people – including Republicans — across the state.

But if GOP legislators are willing to cut a realistic deal with Brown, getting the proverbial half a loaf in exchange for the June vote, they instead become part of the solution, something that could serve them well in future elections.

John Wildermuth is a long-time writer on California politics.