By Steven Harmon
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 06/03/2011 05:51:59 PM PDT
Updated: 06/04/2011 05:06:40 PM PDT

SACRAMENTO — Another deadline, another round of exhortations from Gov. Jerry Brown to complete a budget and allow the people to vote on tax extensions.

But is anybody listening yet? Maybe.

Last time, lawmakers were up against a March deadline set arbitrarily by Brown, who wanted to hammer out a budget deal in time to have a special election in June. Now, a constitutionally required deadline, June 15, looms over them — as well as the prospects of losing their pay if they don’t meet it.

Lawmakers are also girding for the June 10 draft release of newly drawn district boundaries, which could force some to rethink their positions on taxes and spending.

“I’d say legislators are more worried about their political survival than their next paycheck,” said Jack Pitney, government professor at Claremont McKenna College. But the June 15 deadline “provides lawmakers with a rationale. If you’re one of the few Republicans thinking of voting for tax extensions, you can point to the constitutional requirement that you have to reach a resolution.

“That’s a little more persuasive than a made-up deadline.”

Still, the outcome of negotiations remains unclear and the political climate is not exactly encouraging.

Partisan animosities are as sharp as ever two months after budget negotiations collapsed and Brown lost his chance at holding a special election during the optimal month of June.

Republican leaders continue to lash out at Democrats for being apologists for labor unions and the spending lobby, while Democrats accuse Republicans of being toadies for powerful anti-tax forces from Washington, D.C., and a pair of Southern California talk show hosts.

Brown has dropped any pretense of working with Republican leaders from either house, as they hew to the far right of their caucuses and insist that a $10 billion deficit can be eliminated without taxes.

Even Democrats have broken from Brown on strategy: they want to bypass a vote of the people and push tax extensions through the Legislature, though they still need the same number of Republicans, four, to vote for taxes as Brown needs to hold a special election. And Brown has threatened to veto any spending restorations that Democrats are seeking in the wake of the state’s recent $6.6 billion revenue windfall.

Senate Democrats are expected to take up their own spending cap and pension and regulatory reform bills on Wednesday, but they are likely to fall short of what Republicans are seeking.

But Brown insists that he has seen enough positive signals to hold out hope. He said he is looking for a “zone of potential agreement” on regulatory reforms, a spending cap and, perhaps the most politically complicated issue, pension rollbacks.

“Of course we’re divided, we’ve been divided before,” Brown told business leaders last week. “There are two poles, here, different sides. It’s my job to bring people together. We’re at a point where there is a possibility on a lot of these key issues to form a powerful governing coalition here.”

Democrats can protect some of their spending priorities, he said, at the same time that Republicans, “who control whether taxes get on the ballot,” can get the reforms they’re looking for.

“We’ll have the benefits of whatever reforms Republicans legislators who vote for this damn thing can wring out of Democrats,” he said. “So, this is a pretty good opportunity right now. I think it’s pretty healthy for the state.

“This is a difficult time but it’s a very unique moment in the state’s history,” he said. “Over the next 10 days, if we pull this together then we can go to the people themselves. There are compromises, discussions going on.”

Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Hemet, one of the original so-called GOP 5 who have stayed in talks with Brown, suggested he may be ready to vote to allow a special election on taxes.

“It’s clear that the governor shares my belief that we need to protect education and law enforcement and that an all-cuts budget was never a reality,” Emmerson said in a statement after Brown unveiled his revised budget in May. “It’s time to get to work.”

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