Jerry Brown courts business leaders to get behind his fiscal plans

Gov. Jerry Brown is taking his pitch for extended taxes directly to Republicans’ deep-pocketed supporters: California’s most influential business leaders.

In his first public event outside Sacramento since becoming governor, Brown told the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce on Thursday evening that his bid for billions in taxes is vital to the state’s economic survival.

Brown and business: In the Feb. 11 LATExtra section, an article about Gov. Jerry Brown’s outreach to business leaders to gain support for extending taxes said that all Republican lawmakers who voted for tax increases in 2009 lost elections for state office in 2010. Not all of the Republicans who voted that way ran for state office in 2010. —

“The alternative is not good,” Brown told the group, explaining that absent the taxes, state services will be cut deeply and painfully. “Help me and I’ll help you.”

The speech capped several days of meetings with many of the state’s top business figures, held in hopes that they will pressure Republican legislators to support Brown’s proposal to place a tax extension before voters in June. First, the governor must persuade many of the same business groups that opposed him in last year’s election to endorse his budget blueprint.

“I will try to first charm them, then inform them and then finally challenge them to rise above their predilections and their customary way of looking at things and pull together as Californians,” Brown said before the speech.

He may, in the end, need to give a little too: GOP lawmakers have said they would like regulatory reforms, changes to the public pension system and limits on future state spending to be part of any final budget deal. Thus far, Brown has resisted. But he maintains that he is open to ideas from Republicans and their business allies.


Meanwhile, he has been lobbying largely behind closed doors. He attended a private lunch Thursday with a group he described as “some key Republicans … in the business field.” He added: “And I hope to earn their trust.”

Brown’s office refused to say who attended the lunch.

Brown said he also has spoken with the heads of some of the largest companies in the state, including Cisco Systems Chief Executive John Chambers and Chevron Chief Executive John Watson, and reached out to Republican groups such as the New Majority to ask for support.

On Wednesday, the governor invited 17 regional business leaders to meet in his Capitol office. Brown sat in on part of the meeting to make his case for the tax proposal and listen to ideas about how to solve the state’s chronic budget problem and boost the sagging California economy.

Carl Guardino, executive director of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, was at the session in the governor’s office. He said Brown asked the group to support a June ballot measure asking voters to agree to the tax extension. A top Brown aide, Nancy McFadden, asked the group directly to pressure Republican lawmakers to vote for it.

Politically speaking, this is not Brown’s home turf. Most of the state’s largest business groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce, actively supported his Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, in last year’s gubernatorial race.

But there are some signs that Brown’s strategy might work. Alluding to a famous scene in the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” when Robert Redford and Paul Newman jump off a cliff, Guardino stressed that there’s a need for business, labor, environmental and business groups “to make the leap together on tough budget cuts, necessary tax extensions and vital governance, budget, pension and regulatory reforms.”

Guardino said his organization would be open to the ballot measure if it were coupled with budget and government reform proposals.

But Brown still must overcome strong opposition from conservative groups such as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., which have stated their unequivocal opposition to his budget plan. The group holds considerable sway over GOP lawmakers, and Republicans are keenly aware that all of their fellow party members who voted for tax increases in 2009 lost elections for state office in 2010.

One of them is Mike Villines, the former leader of the Assembly’s Republicans who lost his leadership post in the wake of his support for taxes in 2009 and lost a bid for insurance commissioner in 2010. Villines said support from the state Chamber of Commerce or other business groups could help give GOP lawmakers political cover to support the governor’s plan.

“Having the business community involved does help Republicans,” he said. “When they engage, it helps the politics and the policy discussion … and that’s a good thing.”

There were signs this week that a compromise might eventually be possible. Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway of Tulare seemed to soften her stance against the governor’s proposal after her caucus met with Brown on Wednesday in Sacramento.

“We’re not to a point that we’re saying yes to putting something on the ballot yet,” Conway said. “I think it might depend on what that ballot looks like.”