By David Siders
Published: Monday, Sep. 12, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 1A

As the Legislature finished in a flurry early Saturday and left town, it left Gov. Jerry Brown in a jam.

Among the raft of bills approved in the final hours of the legislative session were several union-backed measures that, if Brown vetoes, could strain his already-complicated relationship with labor and, if he signs, could upset his business friends.

Brown is courting both constituencies as he prepares for a likely ballot measure in 2012 to raise taxes.

“He’s got to play three-level chess, in a way,” said Garry South, a Democratic strategist. “How much of labor’s agenda can he veto and still have the kind of labor support he’s going to have to have if he puts a tax measure on the ballot in 2012?”

Labor unions spent millions of dollars to elect Brown last year, and they are testing their luck with a Democratic governor for the first time since Gov. Gray Davis was recalled in 2003.

After seven years of vetoes by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Davis said, “I’m sure there’s some pent-up demand.”

Labor-backed bills moving through the Democratic-controlled Legislature to Brown’s desk range from one that would let unions organize child-care providers who work from home to one that would strengthen existing restrictions on state agencies using private contractors.

Legislative Democrats on Friday inserted into a bill and passed language that would require ballot initiatives in 2012 to be placed on the November ballot. The measure would favor Democrats and their labor allies in initiative campaigns because Democratic turnout for the November presidential election is expected to be far higher than in the June primary.

The measure could be particularly problematic for Brown, who decided four decades ago, when he was secretary of state, that ballot initiatives could go on primary ballots.

He sponsored a political reform initiative that went on the ballot in June 1974, the year he ran for governor.

The elections bill now on Brown’s desk also would move a union-opposed measure the Legislature put on the June ballot – bolstering the state’s rainy day fund – to November 2014.

“We have a lot of bills that are coming up now,” Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, said Thursday, on the second-to-last day of session. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, was similarly uncertain about prospects for labor-backed measures. He said said it’s “too early” to tell.

Legislation Brown has dispatched so far suggests he is capable of disappointing his supporters.

Despite intense pressure from Democrats and labor unions, Brown vetoed legislation in June that would have made it easier to organize farmworkers. A compromise measure proposed by Brown and negotiated by Steinberg and the United Farm Workers union was approved by the Legislature late Friday.

In a speech as the bill reached the Senate floor after 11 p.m., Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, ran down a list of labor-backed measures and called the farmworker legislation “one in a long string of union giveaways.”

Steve Merksamer, who was Republican Gov. George Deukmejian’s chief of staff, said any special interests Brown may disappoint are likely to remain helpful to him on shared concerns.

“The fact is, at least in my estimation, the interests need the governor more than the governor needs the interests,” he said. “In terms of needing labor, yeah, he does. But they need him, too, right? Frankly, the governor needs the business community as well.”

Asked at a news conference last week about his vetoes upsetting Democrats, Brown said “we can make many of those bills better.”

He complained previously about the volume of legislation arriving at his desk.

“My general sense is we have too damn many laws,” Brown said this summer. “I can tell you a good number of them are not necessary, but I just don’t have the heart to veto everything that I think is not necessary.”

Brown almost certainly will be friendlier to legislators’ bills than Schwarzenegger, who vetoed more than a quarter of regular-session bills the Legislature sent him. Brown’s veto rate was less than 5 percent when he was governor before, from 1975 to 1983.

He’s scheduled to speak today in Las Vegas at a Laborers’ International Union of North America convention.

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