Brown’s Plan B getting another look

Gov. Brown’s options are starting to take shape in increasingly fractured budget negotiations with Republican lawmakers.

In private conversations, the governor noted that he was considering alternatives  – long discussed — that include placing a tax-and-cut budget package on the ballot via simple-majority votes of the Legislature, Capitol sources said, a maneuver that would allow his plan to get to the ballot without Republican backing.

Publicly, the governor said he remains hopeful at getting a bi-partisan budget package and was not considering anything less than that.

He made those comments Monday at labor gathering in Sacramento, and on Tuesday morning he told a Bay Area labor group that he was determined to get his budget proposal before voters one way or another.

Brown, a Democrat, has sought Republican votes to allow voters to decide on the budget, which faces a $26 billion shortage through mid-2012. He has called for a mix of tax extensions and cuts. By one estimate, the Legislature already has made some $7.4 billion in cuts. The main budget bill, without taxes, was approved last week, as were a number of budget-linked bills.

Republican lawmakers have balked at asking the electorate to decide tax increases and thus far have blocked Brown’s efforts to corral a two-thirds vote. Democrats control both houses but lack the two-thirds votes needed to approve new levies. To get to the magic numbers of 27 in the Senate and 54 in the Assembly, the governor needs Republican votes, and so far, he doesn’t have them.

The budget-linked bills that include critical pieces of the budget – the so-called trailer bills – can be approved with simple-majority votes and take effect immediately, under Proposition 25. Several trailer bills targeting cuts have been approved, but trailers including the tax extensions have not yet passed.

A special legislative session on the budget already has been called and could be utilized, if needed.

Senate Republicans, hoping to distance themselves from painful cuts and citing a legislative counsel’s opinion, say Democrats can place cuts and tax increases on the ballot by themselves in simple-majority votes without GOP support.

On two key issues, elimination of enterprise zones and the single sales factor, two-thirds votes likely would be needed. Eliminating the enterprise zones would remove tax breaks for businesses which, in effect, could be viewed as a tax increase. Similarly, removing the single sales factor option, in which a company decides how it wants its income taxed, could result in a tax hike.

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