Fiscal fight shifting to the Hyatt

Some of the toughest fighting over Gov. Brown’s fiscal policies won’t be happening in the Capitol, it will be taking place across the street at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

That’s where Republicans gather at the end of next week for their spring convention, and GOP lawmakers who are perceived as too enthusiastic about putting taxes before the electorate may be in for a rough ride.

“That’s one thing that’s driving the budget negotiations. No Republicans want to go into the convention and get hammered,” said a veteran GOP strategist familiar with the inner workings of the GOP.

The convention is scheduled March 18-20 at the Hyatt, a popular haven for Republicans, in part because of its non-union stance. Brown and many Democrats in the Capitol hope the budget package is approved long before then, but thus far, negotiations have not been fruitful. Officially, Republican officials see little connection between the progress of the budget negotiations and the looming convention.

There’s an element of déjà vu. In 2009, Republicans agreed to a budget deal shortly before the state party gathered in the capital. Party activists pilloried the six Republicans who broke with party orthodoxy on taxes. 

At issue now, just like 2009, is an attempt to resolve a $25.4 billion budget hole by crafting a mix of tax extensions and cuts and placing them before voters in a special election by June.

A vocal contingent at the convention is all but certain to be the newly formed Taxpayers’ Caucus, a 30-member band of legislative Republicans who, following the lead of national anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, vowed no tax hikes and urged other Republicans to do the same.

Earlier this week, the state GOP invited Brown to debate Norquist on the issue of taxes before the Republican confab.

The budget spotlight has shifted to five GOP lawmakers who did not sign up for the taxpayer caucus. This splinter group has become a new focus of budget talks, hiring staff and pledging unity among themselves – at least for now. Though they declared budget talks with Brown were at an impasse Monday, they were reportedly back at the negotiating table with Brown later in the week and are still thought to be the pivotal piece of any potential deal.

Lawmakers already are working past deadlines.

Anything appearing on a June ballot must have qualified 131 days before election day, according to the secretary of state’s office, which means the budget package should have been approved weeks ago. For a June 7 special election, the deadline to send ballots to military personnel and California residents overseas is in April, 60 days before a potential June 7 election day.

Brown has said he wants a June 7 election to leave lawmakers time to pass a budget by the June 15 deadline, once voters have weighed in on the tax extensions one way or another.

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