Walters

 

Published: Wednesday, Jun. 1, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

Newly inaugurated Gov. Jerry Brown declared in January that he wanted the state budget deficit to be closed within 60 days and laid out his plan to do it. Five months later, he’s still searching for the magic political formula.

Could June be the month when it happens?

For decades, the state constitution has declared that the Legislature shall pass the budget by June 15, a deadline only rarely met.

Last year, while lowering the budget vote requirement from two-thirds to a simple majority, voters also decreed (in Proposition 25) that if legislators don’t pass “the budget bill” by June 15, they’ll forfeit salaries and expense reimbursements “until the day that the budget bill is presented to the governor.”

So will legislators’ fear of losing income break the months-long stalemate over Brown’s plan to ask voters to extend some temporary taxes for five years?

It seems unlikely. The ideological conflict is stark, for one thing. And for another, legislative leaders appear to take the attitude that they’ve already technically complied with Proposition 25 by passing a budget bill last March, even though it was never sent to the governor.

That budget assumed that Republicans and voters would agree to the tax extensions, thereby providing billions of dollars to close the deficit. But that raises another constitutional issue: If it assumes new taxes that haven’t yet materialized, does the budget violate Proposition 58, a 2004 measure that says the Legislature cannot pass a budget whose appropriations exceed estimated revenue?

Only the state Supreme Court could clarify those issues, but its decision would come weeks or even months after the fact.

While Brown seeks a few Republican votes for his plan, he’s out of sync with Democratic legislative leaders and powerful public employee unions, none of which want a quick election on the taxes. They fear – with good reason – that voters would reject them. They also despise the spending limit and pension reform measures that Republicans also want, fearing – with good reason – that voters would pass them.

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