California lawmakers returned to their districts Thursday without a solution to the state government’s $26 billion budget deficit. Governor Jerry Brown had been negotiating for Republican support to put a tax extension on a special election ballot. If voters passed the extension, that revenue plus some sharp spending cuts would have balanced the budget. But the budget talks blew up this week — and the Republicans and the governor can’t agree why.
Brown had been negotiating with five Republican senators who wanted government reforms in exchange for votes. Senate Minority Leader Bob Dutton says he intervened after Brown complained that he couldn’t get a clear answer on which budget reforms the “GOP 5” wanted.
"The stories that were coming out in the press said there were budget negotiations going on," Dutton says. "Well, there wasn’t budget negotiations going on because Gov. Brown was not talking to me."
Dutton compiled a list of more than 50 budget “wants” and noted what the Administration agreed to, compromised on, or rejected. It got leaked to the press. So Dutton posted it online.
"It’s an outline," Dutton explained to reporters Thursday. "It was to help to put us all on the same page. It was intended to point out what I thought the issues were in terms of members of my caucus in order to come to some type of resolve so that we could move forward. This was never a demand list."
But Brown saw differently and broke off budget talks. Dutton says in a meeting, the governor’s wife and Special Counsel Anne Gust-Brown yelled at him about changing Republican demands. So was this budget blow-up just a big misunderstanding?
The governor’s press secretary Gil Duran doesn’t think so.
"It’s time for Bob Dutton to put his 'big boy' pants on and lead," Duran quipped. "The thing we’re looking at here is a budget crisis that’s really going to crush school children, the elderly, the disabled and the poor. So we really don’t have time for Bob Dutton’s feelings."
The Brown Administration may try for a November ballot initiative to extend the taxes - or resort to an all-cuts budget. The governor has said he won’t sign a state budget that relies on gimmicks.