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State budget: Brown’s deadline passes

Election deadline murky as money talks continue
By: JUDY LIN and JULIET WILLIAMS Associated Press
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SACRAMENTO (AP) — Now that California lawmakers have missed Gov. Jerry Brown’s self-imposed budget deadline, it remained unclear Thursday when they have to act to meet his demand for a special election to consider extending recent tax hikes. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said lawmakers are planning to work through the weekend to try to secure Republican support to call the election in June. He said he is aiming for a floor vote next week. Both the Assembly and Senate are on call, which means lawmakers are required to be within a few hours of the Capitol throughout the weekend. “I think that there is some real progress,” Steinberg said. Brown’s office wants the election held June 7, to coincide with local elections in many California cities. That also would provide enough time to prepare for the planned expiration of some of the tax hikes on July 1. But it’s not clear when the Legislature has to pass the budget to make that happen. State law requires the election to be scheduled 131 days in advance — a deadline that already has passed —but the Legislature can write its own law allowing that to be waived. Brown also faces a Monday deadline to call a special election to replace former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman, who resigned her Los Angeles-area seat last month. Steinberg responded to speculation that Republican lawmakers are reluctant to vote before the state party’s twice-yearly convention, to be held March 18-20. Steinberg said he would not wait that long. “We will be on the floor next week,” he said. The Democratic governor wants voters to authorize five-year extensions of temporary increases in the sales, personal income and vehicle taxes enacted two years ago as part of his plan to close the state’s $26.6 billion deficit. He proposed to balance the tax hike with $12.5 billion in spending cuts and wants to save money by shifting more responsibilities to local governments. He set the deadline for a budget vote Thursday but asked for a delay, citing progress in negotiations. Five Republican senators — Tom Berryhill of Modesto, Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo, Anthony Cannella of Ceres, Bill Emmerson of Redlands and Tom Harman of Huntington Beach — said Thursday that they were continuing to negotiate with Brown. They are seeking long-sought GOP demands for a state spending cap, freezing pension benefits for current state and local government workers, and reducing regulations for businesses. Two Republican votes are needed in the Assembly and Senate to reach the two-thirds vote threshold required to place the tax question on the ballot. “The governor encouraged us to step out of our comfort zone, and we’re hopeful he is delivering the same message to his constituencies,” the senators said in a statement. “The key to success lies in Governor Brown’s ability to stand up to the defenders of the status quo and fight for real reform that will fix the underlying structural problems that contribute to our state’s chronic spending, budget and economic problems.” There’s been less momentum in in the Assembly. Shannan Velayas, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office, said 88 days is the shortest window in which a statewide special election has been called. That was for the May 2009 special election called by the Legislature and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in which a series of measures that included the same tax questions failed. Timing is important. After the Legislature calls an election, there are dozens of tasked required by myriad agencies at the state and local level. That includes the attorney general’s office completing the official ballot labels, and ballot titles and summaries for each measure. The ballot labels, title and summaries also must be translated into six other languages. The state can begin printing voter information guides, which typically takes 20 to 40 days, only after drafting and displaying fiscal and policy analyses, along with arguments for and against each measure on the ballot. Contra Costa County Registrar Steve Weir noted the 2003 recall of then-Gov. Gray Davis was held 76 days after it was called. But fewer days means more stress for county election offices. “If you gave me less than 68 days, I’d be a in a world of hurt,” Weir said. “Even saying that, my staff, if they were standing here, would be sucking in their breath.” While it makes financial sense for Brown to consolidate with the June 7 elections, the governor doesn’t have to follow that deadline because the public understands he’s been trying to work out a deal with legislators, said Shaun Bowler, political science professor at the University of California, Riverside. “Legislators are sort of playing a game of chicken, and they’ve got a lot more to lose than the governor does,” Bowler said. “Either they’ve got to reject giving voters a say, or they’re rejecting a compromise. They can do all the rhetoric and spinning, but I think it’s pretty apparent it’s the legislators’ move.”