Staff and wire reports
Created: 02/24/2011 08:14:29 PM PST

The battle to get a tax extension on a June ballot is heating up in Sacramento.

Just a day after a majority of Republicans in the Legislature formed a “Taxpayers Caucus” – basically refusing to put the measure on the ballot – Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday attempted to convince GOP lawmakers to leave it up to the voters.

“Remember it’s not a tax, it’s a `Let the people speak,”‘ Brown told a joint committee formed to reconcile the Assembly and Senate versions of Democratic budget bills.

“If you’re going to have $25 billion in cuts and you’re going to cut four or five weeks of the school (year), then I think people are going to be shocked if you didn’t ask their permission.”

Brown is calling for a special election that would allow voters to decide on a five-year extension of increases to state sales, income and vehicle taxes. The taxes were approved in 2009 to address that year’s deficit but are set to expire this year.

California is facing a $26.6 billion budget deficit.

On Wednesday, 29 of the 42 Republicans in the Legislature had formed a “Taxpayers Caucus,” vowing not to send the tax extensions to the ballot unless they are accompanied by tax-reduction proposals.

Republican pledges to avoid tax increases “make good theater,” but the state is desperate for a solution to its ongoing budget problems, Brown said.

“For those who say they don’t want to vote, then why are you here? And if you’re going to be here, give me some ideas,” he said.

Several Inland Empire Republicans – State Senate GOP Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, as well as state Sens. Bob Huff, R-Walnut, and Bill Emmerson, R-Hemet, a former assemblyman – chose not to join the newly formed caucus, citing that their oposition to tax increases is already known.

Huff said he didn’t join because, as chairman of the Republican Caucus, his goal is to keep the GOP ranks aligned.

“There was no purpose for this (new) caucus other than to divide the (Republican) caucus,” Huff said. “Their action resulted in throwing people under the bus, or getting their heads on a stick.

Huff became the latest GOP lawmaker to be added to the “Heads on a Stick” list maintained by popular KFI-AM (640) talk show duo John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou. The hosts of “The John and Ken Show” chastise lawmakers who they perceive as lying to voters and soft on taxes.

Republicans are not a monolithic party, Huff said.

“Some represent coastal districts, some urban, some mountainous … all have different concerns,” Huff said.

Huff said GOP lawmakers could conceivably vote to put the tax extension on the ballot if some of them saw that a long list of demands had been met, such as major pension reforms, lessening environmental and labor laws as well as introducing a spending cap.

“I’m not one of them. But as one of the leaders, I feel I can’t drive a wedge in our caucus,” he said.

Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucaipa, said he didn’t participate in the caucus because he signed a similar pledge in 2009 and that another one was not necessary.

“I didn’t even know what it was, and then the next thing you hear is `You better do this or you’ll be on the radio,”‘ Cook said. “I’m upset with their methodology. Do I have to sign a pledge every five minutes?

“I said I wasn’t and I’m not going to. I don’t know how more clear I can be. I’m tired of political grandstanding on state time. We are supposed to be solving problems instead of going on about something we got our position on already.”

Assemblyman Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, who represents Victorville and Adelanto, said he has joined the caucus, but that it isn’t really a big deal.

“I don’t know that we need to blow this out of the water,” Kinght said. “When I saw it, I said, `Yeah, I believe in that, I’ll sign on.’ That’s basically it.

“It’s OK to sign, and it’s OK to say I already made my pledge.”

Former Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R-Claremont, now a member of the state parole board, faced an unsuccessful recall campaign after he voted for tax increases in 2009. The creation of the caucus is a good idea, but it has its drawbacks, he said.

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