Governor presses on with taxes while sounding the warning bell 

Three weeks after proposing big spending cuts and more taxes to close California’s chronic budget deficit, Gov. Jerry Brown beseeched legislators Monday to quickly place his plan before voters, raising the specter of even deeper whacks at education, social services and other public programs if it fails.

With scarcely a month remaining before his self-imposed deadline for legislative action, Brown cited the democratic upheaval in Egypt in urging legislators not to “block a vote of the people” on his plan.

“I came here not to embrace delay or denial, but to get the job done,” Brown said in a widely televised State of the State address, while acknowledging the reluctance of budget stakeholders and Democrats to make spending cuts and Republicans and anti-tax groups to extending $11 billion a year in temporary taxes.

“They [voters] have a right to vote on this plan,” he said. “This state belongs to all of us, not just those of us in this chamber. Given the unique nature of the crisis and the serious impact our decisions will have on millions of Californians ... the voters deserve to be heard.”

Brown’s Solomon-like plan faces two very high political hurdles.

One is a Legislature dominated by very liberal Democrats and very conservative Republicans. The former are feeling heat from advocates for the poor, elderly and disabled who oppose the billions of dollars in permanent “safety net” spending cuts Brown wants, while the latter are being pressed by anti-tax groups to oppose tax extensions.

Outwardly, nothing Brown said Monday appeared to change any minds. Republicans continued to oppose taxes while Assembly Speaker John Perez reacted coolly, portraying Brown’s budget as “worthy of serious consideration by every member of the Legislature.”

Even were Brown to win enough support to place taxes before voters in a June election, he would face a tough battle to win their approval.

A new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California found voters reacted fairly positively to Brown’s specific proposal to extend tax increases enacted in 2009. But majorities said they were taxed too much already.

The governor has said he is reluctant to specify draconian cuts in education, health, welfare and prison spending that would result should the tax extensions be rejected by the Legislature or voters, lest he be accused of fear mongering.

He describes Plan B as “so horrible that we don’t want to release it.” Perhaps it is fitting that the Latin name of California’s extinct grizzly bear is ursus arctos horribilis.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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