Opinion » Dan Walters

The governor’s budget strategy is being squeezed in three ways

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California Gov. Jerry Brown’s political courtship of Republican senators to vote for his budget plan was an on-again, off-again affair last week.

Earlier in the week it appeared that negotiations on whether billions of dollars in taxes would be submitted to voters had reached an impasse, and Brown let it be known he might seek a tax vote next fall via initiative petition.

Talks then resumed, and it appeared at one point a deal was, as one Capitol insider put it, “imminent.”

However, as the Legislature split from Sacramento for a three-day weekend Friday, agreement remained elusive. It became apparent that Brown was being squeezed three ways — by Republicans, by Democratic interest groups and by the calendar.

What happens next, if anything, is anyone’s guess. There are several Plan B scenarios if no bipartisan deal is cut.

One would be the fall initiative drive about which Brown hinted — certainly not optimal from his standpoint. The revenue would be much less, and it would delay closing the multibillion-dollar budget deficit for months — even assuming voters would tax themselves for five more years.

If voters rejected the taxes in November — and a new Public Policy Institute of California poll indicates that they now lean against them — the budget crisis would be that much worse.

Another alternative would be to try to call a tax election on a simple majority vote, thus bypassing Republicans, but its legality is in dispute. A court battle would surely ensue.

“I’m not excluding any pathway to give the people the right to vote,” Brown said Thursday as he signed some spending cuts, adding later, “A lot of things are better than all cuts.”

Brown still is wooing a few Republican senators who are evidently willing to buck their party and do a deal if their side-issue demands are met.

The central question is, however, whether he and Democratic leaders can meet Republicans’ demands for public pension, budget and regulatory reforms to secure their votes without alienating unions and other Democratic allies. Brown needs them to finance the tax campaign, and they are pressuring him not to cede too much to get GOP votes.

Brown’s conceded that his preferred election date, June 7, is gone. June 14 would be the next possible date, but it’s fading fast.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.