By Jack Chang
jchang@sacbee.com
Published: Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011 – 10:40 am

Katcho Achadjian billed himself as a new, more flexible kind of Republican when he ran for an Assembly seat on the Central Coast last year.

Unlike nearly all of the state’s GOP legislators, Achadjian, a San Luis Obispo County supervisor, had refused to sign a pledge to oppose raising taxes.

He told his local newspaper, “I’d rather not make promises when I don’t know what the future will be, 100 percent.”

That comment unleashed ridicule from a much-read conservative blog and from anti-tax activists, who called Achadjian an unreliable soldier in the war against big government.

Within weeks, Achadjian changed his tune and signed the no-tax pledge. He went on to his win his primary and the race.

While newly inaugurated Gov. Jerry Brown promised in his campaign to spur bipartisan cooperation, the commitments already made by many of the state’s 120 legislators will complicate his task.

On Monday, the governor is set to propose a budget that includes deep spending cuts to higher education, welfare and other programs, and asks voters to extend taxes scheduled to expire in July. He has said he wants a deal on the package within 60 days.

But pressures bombarding legislators of both major parties, from anti-tax groups on the right and unions on the left, will make his job harder as budget battles gear up.

Democrat Richard Pan, for example, won a tough battle for a Sacramento Assembly district seat last year with more than $1.2 million in union support.

In a May voter guide, he said state government should be more efficient, but added that “increasing revenue is essential to solving our budget crisis.”

Pan’s two Democratic primary opponents, who received far less union support, suggested slashing prison budgets to help close the deficit.

The result: Pan won the Democratic nomination, then scored an impressive November win in a district with a slight Republican edge.

Pan said last week that he would cast a wary eye on proposals to cut budgets.

“Some of the cuts are really going to lead to both short-term and long-term costs to the economy,” Pan said. “We need to look at the value of different services.”

On the Republican side, all but two legislators have signed the no-tax pledge issued by the national group Americans for Tax Reform. Led by anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, the group warned on Thursday that it would consider putting the tax issue on the ballot a violation of the pledge.

Achadjian declined to comment on Brown’s budget proposal or why he changed his mind about making a no-tax promise.

But five Republicans who signed the pledge, then voted for taxes in 2009, are no longer in the Legislature. They either opted to leave after they hit their term limits or lost elections for higher office.

That history will surely be on lawmakers’ minds as Brown attempts to persuade enough Republicans to get the tax extension on the ballot, said Dave Gilliard, a political consultant for newly elected Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville. The refusal of Gaines’ opponent to sign the pledge became a central campaign issue in the GOP primary for the special election on Nov. 2.

Majority vote possible?

For their part, Republican leaders have speculated that Brown could put his measure before voters by amending an existing initiative, which would require a simple majority vote. They have asked for a legislative counsel opinion on the issue.

Otherwise, Brown would need a two-thirds approval, which would mean persuading at least two Republican Assembly members and two GOP senators as well as every Democratic legislator to support his plan.

“I don’t think there’s any maneuvering to be had,” Gilliard said about lawmakers and the GOP tax pledge. “Any maneuvering is going to annoy voters to the point of throwing them out of office.”

Brown’s plan will also face resistance from Democrats under pressure to protect education and social programs that have already been slashed in previous budgets. They often used strong rhetoric during budget skirmishes with former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

At a September rally at the Capitol, Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, slammed proposed cuts as an attack on women, children and students.

“The only thing worse than not having a budget would be to pass the governor’s budget, which would continue to dismantle those public investments and public institutions,” Hancock told dozens of supporters at the gathering.

Sen. Noreen Evans, of Santa Rosa, at the time called Schwarzenegger’s budget “a dead-end vision for a decayed state.”

This week, Evans said she was more amenable to cuts, even though Brown is targeting some of the same health and social service programs that Schwarzenegger did.

“The difference between Brown and Schwarzenegger is Brown is making deep cuts to save the programs,” Evans said. “Schwarzenegger was using the fiscal crisis to eliminate programs he didn’t like.”

Evans added, “With every cut, I’m going to be assessing that with an eye toward how are we going to reinvest in this program.”

Hancock spokesman Larry Levin declined to comment on Brown’s proposed budget.

Unions want more revenue

Already, the Democrats’ union allies are making it clear that they will fight more reductions to school funding and other programs.

“We’re going to oppose any further cuts of public education at any level,” said Fred Glass, spokesman for the California Federation of Teachers, which represents more than 120,000 educational employees.

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