Posted at 12:58 PM on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011
By DON THOMPSON – Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — After weeks of political maneuvering in the Capitol, the coming month will go a long way toward determining how California’s massive budget deficit will be resolved.

Gov. Jerry Brown has given lawmakers a March 10 deadline to call a June special election during which voters would be asked to extend increases passed two years ago to the personal income, sales and vehicle taxes. If he cannot get sufficient Republican support to call the election, the Democratic governor has said the alternative is deep spending cuts to close the $26.6 billion shortfall.

It’s not clear whether any Republican lawmakers are willing to vote independently to support a ballot measure and, if so, what they want in return. Last week, Brown appeared before the legislative conference committee – an extremely unusual move for a governor – to debate ideas and implore Republicans to make him an offer that would persuade them to support the ballot measure.

“Give me some ideas. And if you have some reforms you want to make, some things that Democrats don’t like, let’s hear what they are,” Brown said.

In interviews, Republicans said they want to ease regulations on businesses, cut the size of the state work force and cap state spending to allow only enough of an annual increase to keep pace with inflation and population growth.

They also seek long-term pension reforms as the state faces $115 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. Pension reform gained support last week after the Little Hoover Commission, a state watchdog agency, issued a report recommending the state freeze pension benefits for current state and local government workers. The commission joined the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office in recommending that California switch from guaranteeing benefits to a hybrid system like the 401(k) plans offered to most private-sector employees.

Yet even agreements in those areas would not be enough to win Republican votes for putting tax extensions before voters, said Senate Minority Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga.

“Frankly, at this point I do not see an endgame because Republicans are not of a mind that tax increases do anything but fund what’s broken,” said Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, vice chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee.

The Legislature passed the temporary tax hikes in 2009 and scheduled them to expire this year. Democrats say they aren’t asking Republicans to approve tax increases, only to give voters the chance to decide which way the state should go.

Among more than a dozen Republicans who commented in recent days, only one – Sen. Bob Huff – thought Brown has a chance to win some support from Republicans in moderate districts if he agreed to enough governmental reforms.

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