Capitol and California – State Politics
By Kevin Yamamura
Published: Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

Democrats may seek to tie deep cuts in funding for schools and public safety directly to tax proposals at the ballot, a move that would raise the stakes of a potential June special election.

Gov. Jerry Brown has been coy about what specific cuts he would pursue if he could not persuade lawmakers and voters to extend higher taxes over five years.

But Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said Wednesday it is important for voters to know exactly what would happen if they reject additional taxes.

The Democratic governor proposed a budget last month that would eliminate a $25.4 billion deficit using a mix of program cuts and higher taxes. The plan assumes that voters will agree to extend tax hikes, providing the state an additional $9 billion to $11 billion annually through 2015.

Steinberg’s caucus has asked the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office to specify what additional cuts would be needed if the taxes fell through.

“I think that will begin to frame the discussion about why it would be unacceptable for the people of California to cut $25 billion,” Steinberg said. “And at a minimum, they ought to have the choice. … I think it’s important that there be some impartial analysis about what the choices are when it comes to an additional $12.5 billion in cuts.”

Letting the analyst make the list also allows Brown and lawmakers to pin the cut list on a nonpartisan voice – one that likely is not viewed as negatively as their own – during a campaign for tax extensions.

Steinberg said Democrats are weighing the possibility of passing an entire budget that relies mostly on cuts, then giving voters the opportunity to restore programs with taxes in June.

By comparison, the governor’s plan does not say what would happen if voters reject the taxes.

Brown has largely targeted social services, health care and universities in his budget. But Steinberg said K-12 and public safety programs would face dramatic cuts in an alternative plan that has no additional taxes.

It is questionable whether Democratic leaders could actually persuade their caucuses to approve deeper cuts than Brown proposed.

As it is, Democrats are already looking for softer cuts to social service programs as legislative budget committees review Brown’s plan. Steinberg said his caucus is searching for more palatable solutions to reduce the same $12.5 billion in general fund spending that Brown wants to cut.

“We’re going to actually look to make the most effective, most thoughtful, most productive cuts that will help us get to the closure of this deficit,” said Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles.

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