Jerry Brown takes tax campaign to GOP strongholds

Reporting from Riverside -- Gov. Jerry Brown kicked off a two-day swing through heavily Republican areas Friday to sell Californians on his plan for more taxes, telling teachers and community leaders that without the levies they would be hit hard by further budget cuts.

Employing Power Point and a professorial tone, Brown said the state’s fiscal mess could lead to the shuttering of as many as six university campuses or the turning away of as many as 100,000 students, without the taxes he wants. During the appearance at an elementary school, he offered few other specifics but warned of dire consequences if his plan is not implemented.

“Education will bear a heavy burden,” he said. "…There will be no choice but to make very drastic cuts.”

After months of fruitless negotiations with lawmakers in Sacramento over putting a tax measure on the ballot, the governor launched his statewide push in a district represented by state Sen. Bob Dutton, leader of the Senate’s minority Republicans. Dutton, who along with most other Republicans has refused to negotiate with Brown on the tax issue, declined an invitation to appear with the governor.

A spokesman for the senator dismissed Brown’s event as a “dog and pony show.” To punctuate the point, a group of protesters brought a dog and a pony to the school, Arlanza Elementary.


Meanwhile, Brown said he was learning new details Friday about the effect of budget cuts. He visited a fourth-grade class, for example, that had 35 students.

“I didn’t know that classes went up to 35,” he said. “I think that’s quite a lot.”

The meeting at the school, and a later closed-door session with local elected and law enforcement officials, lacked the pomp and circumstance of a political campaign. Instead, Brown gave a presentation on state finances to a hand-picked audience.

“I want to have a serious discussion,” the governor told reporters after the school event. “This is not a political rally.”

After meeting with mayors, sheriffs and district attorneys, Brown said he wanted them to pressure GOP lawmakers to put the taxes before voters. “We formulated some strategy to talk to some of the Republican legislators,” he said.

Although Brown says he still hopes for a compromise with GOP lawmakers that would lead to an election later this year on a renewal of sales, income and vehicle taxes, he said he would spend the next few weeks building public support for his budget plan outside Sacramento.

Brown was not the only one pitching his proposals to voters. A group of Republican legislators embarked on a 20-city tour this week to drum up support for their own approach: no extended taxes. They have not said how they would balance the budget without them.

The dueling road shows follow the breakdown of bilateral negotiations in Sacramento. Brown had originally hoped for a public vote on taxes in June. Although he is under no constitutional obligation to put his tax plan before voters, he vowed while campaigning for office last year not to raise taxes without a nod from the electorate.

Late last month, he broke off talks with lawmakers and said a June election was no longer possible.

Brown’s almost academic approach Friday was a departure from his more aggressive criticism of GOP lawmakers earlier in the week.

“The Republicans have botched this,” Brown said in an interview Tuesday. “I laid out a plan,” and because GOP lawmakers would not vote for it, “the state’s now on a collision course.”

Brown’s next step remains unclear. He has said there would be an election on his tax proposal “one way or another.” He now says a legislative compromise could lead to a September election. But he is also considering circumventing the Legislature and using a citizen initiative to place his budget plan on the ballot in November if a bipartisan accord cannot be reached.

Either way, Brown said he plans to release a revised budget next month that will assume the renewal of the taxes. But he said he will also ask the Legislature to pass a series of cuts to be implemented if voters say no to the levies. He again rejected suggestions that he could break his vow and sign taxes into law without a public referendum.

Meanwhile, Brown is reaching out, in public and private meetings, to interest groups that could help fund an election campaign. This week, he met with doctors, firefighters, police unions and other groups that traditionally open their wallets for such campaigns.

He said interest groups must now help build public support for his plan to prevent billions more in cuts to state services. Speaking to a firefighters union in Sacramento on Tuesday, Brown urged more “pressure from firefighters, from police, from sheriffs. The pressure has to be turned up.”