capitol.weekly/FlickrAssembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare
There was plenty of talk among lawmakers in the Capitol yesterday, but with less than a week before the start of the next fiscal year, there is still no budget deal in sight.
After an unprecedented week of action – including the first majority-vote budget to come out of the legislature in 78 years, a subsequent veto of that budget by Gov. Jerry Brown and the decision by Controller John Chiang to withhold lawmakers' pay until a balanced budget is produced – Democratic and Republican representatives were at it again yesterday.
At a press conference outside Brown's office, nearly a dozen Republican leaders said they were open to including tax extensions on the November ballot but would not support a temporary extension in the meantime.
Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, meanwhile, said lawmakers on both sides needed to continue to work on issues like a spending cap and pension reform, not use them as bargaining chips to reach a bipartisan agreement. Conway said Brown's recent pick-off strategy to win over the four Republican votes necessary to put tax extensions on the ballot is failing, adding that she doesn't understand why Brown remains fiercely attached to his initial "plan A."
Conway said she is open to negotiating an alternative with the governor, provided that his tax bridge is not part of the deal. Starting July 1, sales tax levels are slated to drop by 1 percentage point and the vehicle license fee will fall half a percentage.
"We were sent here to do a job. We also believe we were sent here to not raise taxes and live within our means – for once," Conway said. "And if people don't like what California looks like with that kind of budget, it gives you an opportunity to go down the road and say, 'OK, do you like it now?' But raising taxes just cannot be part of the conversation for us."
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Given the continued opposition, many Democratic legislators said yesterday that a bipartisan deal is all but impossible. Speaking at a United Farm Workers rally outside the Capitol, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said the chance of getting Republican support for the tax extensions was "remote."
"Is plan A dead? I'll leave it to the governor to announce the wake and the funeral services," Steinberg said. "But we are proceeding to try to develop again the best majority-vote budget we can with the governor."
Brown's press secretary Gil Duran, meanwhile, said Republican senators were "grandstanding" by failing to provide specifics of their alternative plan, adding that before negotiations fell apart in March, legislators could have had regulatory reform, a spending cap and pension reform – all without the need for a tax bridge.
But getting both sides to agree on those issues remains a key roadblock to getting a deal done, said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. While Huffman said he would like to work with Republicans to produce a budget that includes tax extensions, he believes the time for that is long gone.
“I believe that dealing with the Republicans at this point is a waste of time. They have taken themselves completely out of the picture,” Huffman said in a phone interview yesterday. “At some point, you just have to move on with a different strategy.”
Without any additional tax revenue, Huffman said there would "definitely" be more one-time solutions in any new budget proposal. While he applauded Brown's effort to reduce California's "wall" of structural debt, Huffman said he did not think the entire deficit could be eliminated this year alone.
“We're definitely at a point where the reality is setting in. There are going to be some deferrals, some fund shifts and majority-vote revenues. Every one of those tools needs to be on the table," Huffman said. “I think with a little bit of teamwork, we can get this done. There is a huge desire to have it in place; none of us want to see this drag into another impasse."
Despite differences between Brown and Democratic lawmakers, Huffman said he was optimistic that a deal would be reached sometime in the next week. June 30 marks the end of the current fiscal year, or the last day the multitude of agencies that rely on government funding might be able to count on a definitive budget.
“I would like nothing better than for my phone to ring over the weekend," Huffman said. "We're probably at a point where they need to lock the doors and get this done.”