BY JOHN FUND — For more than two months, California Gov. Jerry Brown has been trying to persuade a few Republican legislators to abandon their party’s traditional anti-tax stance. Mr. Brown, a Democrat, needs them to obtain the two-thirds majority in both houses required to put his package of tax increases and spending cuts on a June 7 special election ballot. The deadline for getting the measure before voters is this week, and it looks as if Mr. Brown is close to his goal.
Last week, it was revealed that a splinter group of GOP lawmakers negotiating with Mr. Brown had hired a budget adviser to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to help them prepare the parameters of deal. The adviser’s fee was $20,000, and the money came from a fund controlled by state Senate Democratic leaders, leading some anti-tax activists to worry that “the fix is in.”
When asked how far he will go to meet GOP priorities Mr. Brown told reporters: “As much as we can include that will not set at loggerheads all the opposing parties.”
Anti-tax Republicans worry that the deal being put together would involve extending existing tax increases on purchases, income and vehicle registrations in exchange for weak pension reforms, a toothless cap on state spending and the promise of reforming onerous business regulations at a later date. But the tax increases, which would amount to $1,000 per family for the next five years, will further slow an already weak economy.
Some Republicans also worry that as part of any last-minute deal, the “GOP 5” will agree to hold the June vote as an exclusively mail-ballot election. Mr. Brown has floated the idea as a way of saving money. In reality, most of the savings from not having polling places would merely be shifted to voters, who would have to pay the postage to mail in their ballot.
But an all-mail election could aid Mr. Brown’s cause. A recent Public Policy Institute of California poll found that likely voters ages 35 to 54 were evenly split on extending the existing tax increases. But those over 55 backed the tax hikes by 56 percent to 38 percent. Older voters are far more likely than young people to vote by mail. Skeptics of an all-mail election also worry about possible voter fraud, which is far easier to commit when ballots aren’t filled out under the supervision of election officials.
Labor unions are pressing some Republicans to vote for Mr. Brown’s budget package by floating the idea of backing moderate challengers to them in next year’s primary campaigns. For the first time next year, the state will adopt a “two two” primary, in which the top two finishers will move on to the general election regardless of party. The San Jose Mercury News reports that “the California Teachers Association, SEIU and California Labor Federation are all at various stages of thinking through the strategy,” which would involve moderate challengers attacking conservative Republicans as “obstructionists” for blocking the budget vote. “Republicans understand the open primary is a different world,” said Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation. “It opens the door to moderate Republicans in a way we haven’t seen in the past.”
If a deal between Governor Brown and the “GOP 5” is to happen, observers expect it to be announced within the next 48 hours.