It’s crunch time for California as budget-approval deadline looms 

California Gov. Jerry Brown said March 10 — scarcely two weeks hence — is “very close” to a drop-dead date for legislators to approve his major budget provisions, especially one placing more than $11 billion a year in tax extensions before voters in June.

March 10 also happens to be 60 days since he unveiled his budget for the remainder of the 2010-11 fiscal year and all of the 2011-12 cycle, thus neatly meshing with his self-imposed 60-day window for getting a budget deal done.

“I think we’re within striking distance of getting something out of the Legislature that will give the people a chance to vote,” Brown told reporters last week after summoning them to his office.

“The mood is reasonably positive,” he added. “This is not what we’re seeing in other parts of the country.”

The latter comment apparently referred to the turmoil in Wisconsin, where Democratic legislators have fled the capital to block a Republican governor and GOP lawmakers from curtailing collective bargaining for public employees.

Minority Republicans don’t have to flee Sacramento to block Brown’s tax plan. They just have to refuse to vote for it, and so far they are.

That assumes, of course, that it would take a two-thirds legislative vote to place the tax extensions on the ballot. Brown wants such a vote to create a veneer of bipartisanship. But there are legal theories floating around that Democrats could do it on their own, and they may test the theories if Republicans continue to say “Nyet.”

Democratic legislators, however, haven’t fully signed on to Brown’s tough-love budget solution of health, welfare and higher-education spending cuts. They have completed first drafts of their budgets, which will trigger a two-house conference committee. While their versions follow Brown’s outline, they leave some big holes to be filled.

Two other big-ticket segments of Brown’s budget, meanwhile, are very much up in the air — eliminating local redevelopment agencies to recapture their property taxes for other programs and shifting billions of dollars in state-operated services to counties.

Last week, some big-city mayors floated the notion of borrowing money in lieu of eliminating redevelopment and repaying the loan from redevelopment funds. At best, however, it’s a one-year gimmick that does nothing about long-term deficits.

Brown, meanwhile, would also have to lock down an agreement on “realignment” of some services to local governments, because their financing would hinge on voter approval of the tax extensions.

Brown has lots of moving parts to meld and only days to get it done. This is crunch time.

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

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Dan Walters

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