If Republican legislators thought they were ignored last year in the annual budget dance, Gov. Jerry Brown has made it clear they ain’t seen nothing yet.
In a remarkably candid news conference Tuesday, the governor told reporters that it just doesn’t make political sense to work with GOP leaders next year, especially when he’s going to the voters in an effort to pass a $6.8 billion tax hike.
“As far as I can ascertain, the Republicans – to a person – are committed to not vote to let people vote on a tax,” Brown said after announcing that the state will have to make $1 billion in mid-year budget cuts. “There’s always people who say, ‘Well, if you abolish in 10 years collective bargaining and do a few other things, I’ll give you a vote.’ But the amount – the ask – to get the tax is so high you’ll lose on the other (Democratic) side.”
Earlier this year, Brown spent months working with Republicans in the Legislature, trying to fashion a budget deal that would give him the handful of GOP votes needed to put a $12 billion tax and revenue increase on last June’s ballot. Like Wily Coyote in a Roadrunner cartoon, Brown tried ploy after ploy to corral those elusive votes, always confident that his next maneuver would be the one that worked.
And the Republicans kept dropping the anvil on his head.
Not this year, though. When asked if was going to “aggressively court Republicans to put a tax measure on the ballot,” Brown dismissed the suggestion as a joke.
“Well, I’m not going to serve my good wine in the way I did earlier in the year,” the governor said. “What’s to negotiate? … This courting process doesn’t work unless the (GOP) leaders want to participate.”
State Sen. Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, the GOP spokesman on budget matters, chided Democrats for refusing to seek Republican input on the current budget, which he said included “rosy revenue assumptions and onerous trigger cuts to education.”
“Senate Republicans were ready to roll up our sleeves and hammer out a budget solution then and we are still ready now,” he said in a statement.
But with only a simple majority now needed to pass the budget, Brown only wanted GOP votes to put his tax measure on the ballot. And since he’s going the initiative route with this new tax plan, he has even less need – and desire — to deal Republicans into the game.
“We’re pretty polarized in this country … I think the cleavage is very sharp,” Brown said. “And that’s just the way it is.”
No one can accuse Brown of painting an overly rosy picture of his tax plan’s chances. If other Democratic-friendly groups insist on putting competing tax measures on the November ballot, it “will be difficult” to pass his measure, he said.
“The people of California are saying they don’t want cuts. They’re also expressing reservations about taxes,” Brown said. “We ought to resolve it by a vote,” with no guarantee of how it will turn out.
And since he’ll need the strong backing of the Democratic base of labor, environmentalists, progressives and teacher groups for his tax plan to even have a chance, making nice with the enemy isn’t an option.
Brown drew a few laughs when he said he’s willing to talk to Republicans and “if they’re willing to buy, I’ll have a drink with them.”
But the governor bristled at GOP suggestions that California’s budget problems are simply the result of the state just spending too much money.
“I think any honest observer will say that the California budget is more constrained than it has been historically,” Brown snapped. “And if any of these Republicans has some ideas other than just poor people they’d like to take away child care from, I’ll be glad to listen.”
That’s the kind of talk you hear from a governor who’s decided to burn his bridges to the GOP side of the aisle.