Budget Talks: Republicans Need Not Apply

With deadline looming, Governor Brown attempts agreement behind closed doors

The clock is ticking loudly at the state Capitol, with the constitutional deadline to pass a budget looming Friday at midnight.

With the June primary now over, the scramble is on to reach a deal that will resolve -- or least patch over -- a $16 billion shortfall.

And this year, it's not the usual suspects involved in the negotiations.

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Under terms of Prop 25, passed two years ago, the budget is now a majority vote. That means no Republican votes are needed to pass it.

So Gov. Jerry Brown spent the weekend in talks with Assembly Speaker John Perez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, part of closed door negotiations that continue this week with Democratic leaders.

Last year, the governor negotiated with Republicans anyway on a temporary tax package.

That went nowhere. So this year, the GOP is on the bench, and the so-called  Big Five -- the governor and four legislative leaders -- are now the Big Three.

For Brown, negotiating with his fellow Democrats has an obvious advantage. They support his proposal to raise temporary taxes, and they know a budget blow up would harm chances of passing those taxes in November.

The disadvantage for Brown is that the Democrats will only go so far in accepting his proposed cuts.

Steinberg and Perez are balking at $2 billion in cuts that would affect welfare, child care, and at-home services for the elderly. They're pitching other solutions, such as drawing down the state's emergency reserve and taking money from other accounts.

Assembly Democrats released their proposal on Monday, but it still must be squared with what Senate Democrats want.

There's another motivation for the Democratic leaders. Prop 25 also means that failure to pass a spending plan by June 15th -- a deadline that was routinely ignored in past years -- would result in lawmakers forfeiting their pay.

Last year, legislators got pretty cranky when they lost two weeks pay. This year, most observers expect a budget to arrive on the governor's desk by Friday.

That satisfies the Prop 25 requirement. But will that budget be truly balanced?

Republican lawmakers, reduced to bystanders in this year's drama, are rightfully skeptical.

The outcome of this year's budget is about much more than the state's ability to pay its bills. It's about setting the stage for a ballot fight in November. 

Author Kevin Riggs, an Emmy-winning former TV reporter in Sacramento, is Senior Vice President at Randle Communications.

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