Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday had a taste of the forces he is up against as he tries to sell his budget plan.
Dozens of anti-tax activists gathered near the Capitol to mobilize against him. Legislators staked out partisan ground, as the state Senate leader punished his only Republican committee chairman for calling California’s deficit a Democratic problem. And some Democrats complained that the taxes Brown has proposed are not enough.
The governor is scrambling to line up bipartisan support for his plan, which includes asking voters to prolong $9 billion in expiring annual income, sales and vehicle tax increases.
But “tea party” members and self-described tax fighters who gathered in the old Elks Lodge a few blocks from the Capitol had harsh words for the spending blueprint Thursday. Participants in the summit, sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., put forward a list of problems with Brown’s proposal.
Lew Uhler, president of the National Tax Limitation Committee, lamented that he’s “watched the state implode” at the hands of public employee unions. He said the governor’s plan did nothing to curb the influence of the labor groups that backed Brown’s campaign last year.
Marcia Fritz, a prominent pension-reform activist, complained that the budget plan does nothing to control pension costs. Blogger and state Republican Party official Jon Fleischman noted that almost every GOP lawmaker signed a pledge to oppose tax increases and said that helping Brown put the tax issue before voters would amount to a violation of that pledge.
The activists penned a resolution that, among other things, declared: “From the perspective of taxpayers, any official who supports placing a tax increase on the ballot is expressly supporting that tax increase.”
GOP lawmakers are likely to take notice: Some of their colleagues were chased from office for supporting past tax hikes. Keenly aware of the sway the groups have over the Republican rank and file, Brown and his advisors have been meeting with anti-tax activists behind the scenes in recent days in the hopes of blunting their criticism.
The meetings have included one between Brown and the Jarvis group’s president, Jon Coupal, and one between Fritz and Marty Morgenstern, Brown’s secretary of labor.
Nevertheless, partisan tension is growing. Inside the Capitol, some talk by one Republican senator that might have pleased the Jarvis group cost the lawmaker his committee chairmanship.
Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto) had told reporters Tuesday that the budget mess was “not really our problem…. The Democrats own this.”
On Thursday, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D- Sacramento) stripped Berryhill of his chairmanship, handing it to Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres). Cannella is one of two sitting GOP legislators who has refused to sign a no-tax pledge.
The move is not likely to make interparty relations any more harmonious as lawmakers race to agree on a framework for the budget within 60 days, an accelerated timetable that would allow Californians to vote on a tax measure in June.
Republicans were not the only ones giving Brown grief Thursday.
At the first legislative hearing on the budget plan, several Democrats fretted about the number of public employees who would lose jobs under Brown’s proposed cuts. One assemblyman urged the administration to include more tax hikes.
Assemblyman Sandre Swanson (D-Oakland) said state services had been cut enough. He said more taxes were needed “so we could start rebuilding, or not cut as severely, the many programs that have already suffered cuts.”
Steve Glazer, Brown’s political advisor, said the governor remains hopeful that lawmakers from both parties will eventually reach an accord.
“It would be in everyone’s best interest to focus on finding consensus and common ground in the legislative process,” he said.
Times staff writer Michael J. Mishak contributed to this report.