California Gov. Jerry Brown’s biggest obstacle to closing the budget deficit as he proposes — a mix of spending cuts, additional taxes and a shift of some programs to local governments — may be the calendar.
He wants the Legislature to act on his mélange of intertwined proposals by the first days of March.
The compressed time frame is not merely a whim. Major provisions, particularly new taxes, would have to be approved by voters in a special election in June. To meet that timetable, they would have to clear the Legislature by March.
Additionally, the budget’s proposed spending cuts begin losing their impact if not enacted quickly. And without the spending cuts in place, Brown believes voters would be unwilling to accept more taxes.
California’s legislative process is not known for its speed. Brown wants action in about six weeks, but the Legislature is accustomed to taking at least six months — and lately eight or nine months — to work through a budget.
In theory, it should be easier now because Proposition 25, approved by voters in November, reduces the legislative vote for a budget from two-thirds, which gave Republicans a big say, to a simple majority, which means Democrats could do it by themselves. However, Brown’s budget is, as Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor says, “very ambitious and very complex,” and the way Brown is framing it puts Republicans back in the equation.
Initially, the governor wants the new taxes to reach the ballot as a constitutional amendment, which would require a two-thirds vote to clear the Legislature and thus need at least four Republican lawmakers to vote for it.
So far, however, Republicans are opposing the tax proposal. If they continue to balk, Brown may seek an alternative pathway that requires only a simple-majority vote, a prospect that has touched off an intense Capitol debate over whether it would be legally possible. If it occurs, a court battle would almost certainly ensue.
While he deals with Republicans on taxes, Brown is dealing with Democrats on deep cuts in social welfare, health care and higher education spending he wants enacted by March.
And to complicate the situation even more, he must gain the support of openly skeptical local government officials for his “realignment” of state-local responsibilities, which is tied to increasing taxes, and fend off angry city officials who oppose his proposed elimination of local redevelopment agencies.
All in six weeks.
Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.