California Republicans harden anti-tax stance

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 4:09 PM
California Republicans harden anti-tax stance

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - After approving spending cuts in California Governor Jerry Brown's budget plan last week, state lawmakers this week will try to tackle its most nettlesome proposal -- a ballot measure that would ask voters to extend some temporary tax increases.

Standing in the measure's way are Republicans in the legislature's minority who oppose higher taxes or are facing pressure from supporters to oppose them.

Republicans at their state party convention over the weekend underscored their opposition by backing a resolution against a tax measure even if it was tied to policy changes they have long wanted.

A group of Republican state senators has been trying to negotiate some of those changes with Brown. They include proposals for a spending cap and an overhaul of the state's pension system for public employees.

Taxes, however, are trumping both.

"Republicans believe we're taxed too much, not too little," Republican Senator Tony Strickland said on Monday.

Brown and fellow Democrats who control the legislature will be frustrated if the Senate and Assembly hold votes this week to advance a tax measure to the ballot, Strickland added, noting that he knows of no Republicans willing to back it.

PATHS TO THE BALLOT

Brown wants a measure to raise $12 billion by extending temporary tax increases that expire this year to go to voters in a special election in June. The fastest way to accomplish that is with a vote of two-thirds of lawmakers in both the Senate and Assembly.

Democrats do not have the votes on their own to push a tax measure to the ballot with a two-third vote, requiring Brown to appeal to Republicans for two votes from their ranks in both the Senate and Assembly that a tax measure bill needs to advance.

Brown ramped up his campaign for a measure on Sunday, posting his first YouTube video since taking office in January.

In the video, Brown stressed that lawmakers last week approved spending cuts addressing roughly half of California's budget gap of nearly $27 billion and that voters should decide in a popular vote if the other half should be filled with tax revenue or, alternately, deeper cuts.

"This is a matter that's too big, too irreversible to leave just to those whom you've elected," Brown said.

Brown has said that if lawmakers do not approve a tax measure for the ballot, or if voters reject it, he will balance the state's books with spending cuts reaching into popular education and public safety programs -- on top of cuts approved to health and welfare spending.

Republicans say that is an empty threat, noting that Democrats could advance a tax measure to the ballot with majority votes in both legislative chambers, Strickland said.

But doing so would require complicated legal maneuvers and leave Brown and Democrats with sole political title to a measure, a liability for a special election. Republican voters in California tend to have greater sway in special elections than in general elections.

"They can go directly to the voters. It just seems to me that Jerry Brown wants Republicans to give him cover," Strickland said.

(Reporting by Jim Christie; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)