This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
(04-11) 04:00 PDT Sacramento --
With budget talks at a standstill, Gov. Jerry Brown spent the weekend in Southern California applying pressure to Republicans in the Legislature who oppose his plan to eliminate the deficit by extending higher tax rates.
Brown took his message - that a failure to act will have dire consequences for public safety and other issues dear to voters - to a pair of public events on the turf of two important Republican state senators, the Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga (San Bernardino County) and Sen. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach (Orange County).
Harman was one of only a few GOP members to personally negotiate with the governor on a budget compromise before the talks broke down last month.
Throughout the weekend, local Republican officials stood with Brown as he made his case for an election on continuing current tax rates in order to close the remainder of California's $15.4 billion deficit. Even some who are opposed to the idea of continuing the taxes - along with other parts of the governor's budget plan - said they wanted the opportunity to vote.
Brown got support for his tax plan from top Republican law enforcement officials from the Inland Empire. He needs four Republican votes in the Legislature - two in the Assembly and two in the Senate - to put the tax plan on a special election ballot.
Brown is purposefully making the issue a local one for Republicans. In an extended television interview with KNBC in Los Angeles that aired Sunday, Brown said, "As the legislators, even conservative ones, listen to their own police chiefs they may have second thoughts. And maybe they don't want to vote for the taxes, but they might feel a moral obligation - let the people vote, because it is a democracy after all."
On Friday, Brown met with law enforcement officials in Riverside and San Bernardino counties and afterward spoke to reporters with them at his side.
Rod Hoops, the Republican sheriff of San Bernardino County, supports Brown's tax proposal and said he and others are fed up with what they are hearing from the Capitol.
"The citizens in the county I talk to, that I represent as sheriff, want this fixed," Hoops said. "We're very tired here in the Inland Empire ... of the politics involved. You have to put politics aside."
Michael Ramos, the county's Republican district attorney, said his office is understaffed by 30 lawyers and that a tax reduction would mean the loss of up to 15 more.
He said such a reduction would be "devastating" and that law enforcement officials in the two counties are pushing their representatives at the Capitol to support the governor's plan.
"We're telling them, from a law enforcement perspective, that this is absolutely critical to the safety of our citizens," Ramos said.
The governor has proposed a mix of spending cuts, fund shifts and a five-year extension of current tax rates set to expire in July to close the state's deficit. He wanted a special election in June on the tax question, but it is too late for that.
Brown said during the appearance with law enforcement officials that he is considering proposing as part of his May revision of the budget that the Legislature vote to extend taxes and then allow voters to decide whether to rescind them at a later, yet to be determined, date.
Brown wants to maintain a 0.5 percentage point increase in vehicle license fees and a one-cent increase in the state sales tax. Both are set to expire in July.
A 0.25 percentage point increase in the personal income tax and a reduced state tax credit for dependents that expired in January would be reinstated, and the higher rates would be in effect for five years.
While in Riverside, Brown heard from conservative Republicans like Greg Kraft, who told him at a meeting at an elementary school that he opposed continuing the tax rates - but wants to vote on them.
Kraft, a board member of the Alvord Unified School District in Riverside County since 1992 and a constituent of the Republican Senate leader, said in an interview that he viewed the opposition to allowing an election on the taxes as "politics as usual," adding that, "I don't particularly like typical politics."
Kraft argued that the lower tax rates would put real money back in people's wallets. He thinks voters would reject an extension.
"I don't have any problem with democracy, where you let the people vote on something," Kraft said.
For Brown to persuade Republican lawmakers to allow such a vote requires his going out on their turf, said Barbara O'Connor, a retired professor of political communication at California State University Sacramento.
"I think it's important to talk to people who aren't in the Capitol," she said, "because people in the Capitol have already made up their mind."