By Kevin Yamamura
kyamamura@sacbee.com
Published: Thursday, Jun. 23, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 1A

Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget plan has eight days of shelf life left.

After that, the Democratic governor will have to move on to Plan B, however reluctant he may be.

Brown built his budget strategy around one major concept: allowing voters to decide this year whether to keep paying higher taxes.

Without Republican support to extend taxes, the statewide sales tax will fall one percentage point and the vehicle license fee half a percentage point on July 1.

Brown remains focused on securing two votes in each house in the next week from Republicans, who are asking for pension cuts, a spending cap and regulatory rollbacks.

If that path fails, Brown and legislative Democrats will have to strike a deal. It will take on a different shape, with Brown pushing for more cuts and cleaner revenues than the vetoed legislative Democratic budget contained.

A day after learning state Controller John Chiang would dock lawmakers’ pay $402 a day for failing to produce a balanced spending plan, Democrats were working on a new majority-vote budget that relies on more cuts. Brown told lawmakers he will submit additional cut ideas to them in the coming days while he hunts for GOP votes.

“They are proceeding along parallel tracks,” said Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis. “I believe the governor will decide when and if he cannot reach Plan A. If he can’t, it’s incumbent upon us to have a budget for the state of California that will be a majority-vote budget.”

Democrats acknowledge they face little chance of persuading voters to approve taxes this year if it means Californians have to pay more at the cash register and Department of Motor Vehicles after a special election.

That’s a major reason they are asking Republicans to extend sales and vehicle taxes beyond June. Without that tax “bridge,” they see little reason to pursue an election or a bipartisan deal with Republicans.

Can Brown find Republican support at the eleventh hour? If talks break down at the table, some believe the governor will try to pick off legislators desperate for a paycheck or a post-legislative appointment.

Big businesses are also lobbying Republicans behind the scenes. California Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Allan Zaremberg said he’s looking for that “sweet spot that would create a ballot the governor is asking for and find some of the reforms the legislators and governor have been working on.”

His group prefers general taxes over the targeted tax hikes that labor unions and Democrats have threatened to pursue.

Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said Republicans remain opposed to extending taxes temporarily between July and the election.

“So far, the guys have been adamant that that not happen,” Huff said. “I don’t see that happening. But as the clock runs out, you never know what’s going to happen.”

Democratic strategist Garry South, who advised former Gov. Gray Davis, sees little chance of Brown getting Republicans to vote for his budget.

“Republicans are more concerned about Grover Norquist, the Club for Growth, Karl Rove’s independent expenditure committee and Republicans threatening to recall members,” South said. “They didn’t care what Davis did, they didn’t care what (Gov. Arnold) Schwarzenegger did and they don’t care what Brown does.”

Democrats, meanwhile, are frustrated that their approval of deep cuts in higher education and the safety net earlier this year resulted in neither a budget deal nor a paycheck.

“They’ve already made $11 billion in cuts in programs near and dear to Democrats,” South said. “A no-tax budget obviously requires billions more in cuts to make it balance.”

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office laid out a path in February that includes $13.5 billion in cuts. Under that proposal, education would take a major hit, losing $6.2 billion more.

The Legislature, however, cannot cut K-12 schools and community colleges without a two-thirds vote to suspend Proposition 98. Republicans have rejected that idea, and Assembly Democrats have opposed an “all cuts” scenario all year.

Among the few areas without constitutional budget protections are the public university systems and the state judiciary.

Further cuts in Medi-Cal would face hurdles in court or with the federal government. Lawmakers could pursue the types of drastic eliminations that Schwarzenegger sought, such as ending the state’s welfare-to-work program, but there seems to be little support for that.

It would be difficult to cut the corrections budget, given that the state is trying to find money to redirect inmates to county jails to meet a court order.

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