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Jerry Brown plans to take his case for taxes to voters

With talks with the GOP over in Sacramento, the governor says he'll go on the road, including to many Republican districts, to persuade Californians of the need for a vote on tax extensions.

April 01, 2011|By Anthony York, Los Angeles Times
  • Gov. Jerry Brown responds to a question while appearing before the joint legislative budget conference committee at the Capitol in February.
Gov. Jerry Brown responds to a question while appearing before the joint… (Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo )

Reporting from Sacramento — Gov. Jerry Brown plans to hit the road next week, taking his case for more taxes directly to voters following the collapse of budget negotiations in Sacramento this week.

He is also moving forward with his own plan to overhaul public pensions, apparently in an effort to blunt GOP assertions that he refused to make budget concessions that would rankle public employee unions. The labor groups, big donors to Brown and other Democrats, have resisted fundamental changes to the state retirement system.

After failing to reach agreement with GOP lawmakers, Brown said in an interview Thursday that the time had come to take his message to parts of the state he has not visited since being elected in November. Those include many Republican districts.

"I'm not going to have these private meetings with the Republicans, because they have no one thing they want," he said. "And to tell you the truth, they're not sure what they want."

The governor said he remained committed to putting before voters a measure that would extend billions of dollars in temporary tax hikes to balance the budget — even as some Democrats are exploring the possibility of tax hikes through a legislative vote.

Restating a campaign vow, Brown said the budget would have "no taxes without a vote of the people."

He said that beginning next week, he would campaign with law enforcement groups, teachers and others, warning of further cutbacks in education, public safety and other areas if the taxes, all of which will have expired by July 1, are not extended.

"They're the ones that are going to suffer from a Republican strike against the people," Brown said.

Unable to get the four GOP votes he needed in the Legislature to put the tax issue on a statewide ballot, Brown called off budget talks this week. On Thursday, he said a tax measure would be placed before voters even if that means collecting signatures for an initiative rather than going through the Legislature.

"At this point, there is an overwhelming commitment on the part of the Republicans to deny the people of California the right to vote," he said. "But we will have an election."

In releasing his new state pension plan proposals, the governor said he remained committed to reining in an unsustainable system and would move forward "with or without Republicans."

Brown's proposal would end some perks available to public employees, such as the ability to buy pension credits for years they have not worked. He would curb "spiking," the boosting of lifetime retirement payments with a large raise in the final year of employment. He would also prohibit contracts in which workers who receive a pension don't have to contribute to their retirement accounts.

Brown said more significant changes, such as an optional 401(k) plan for future workers, were "under development."

One idea, he said, is limiting the amount government workers can receive in pension benefits overall. That proposition would be contentious, because it could be a big financial hit for the most highly compensated public workers, such as long-serving police officers, firefighters and prison guards.

"It's not going to come easy, but we'll work at something that will make the pensions more actuarially sound," he said.

Brown said he expected his pension plan to meet strong opposition — "howls of execration," in his words — from unions. They quickly obliged.

"These unilateral changes fly in the face of collective bargaining law and amount to a breach of agreements that state government has made with millions of workers," said Dave Low, chairman of Californians for Health Care and Retirement Security, a union coalition.

Some fiscal conservatives said the Brown plan falls short. Former Assemblyman Roger Niello (R-Sacramento), who is pushing a ballot initiative to change the pension program, said the solutions outlined by Brown, "while important, are not the fundamental cost problems."

Niello wants to raise the retirement age for public employees to 62 — instead of 50 or 55 for some union members — and require employees to contribute at least as much to their pensions as the state does.

Senate minority leader Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga) said he was "glad the governor is still considering Senate Republican recommendations" on pensions, but Republicans had some key disagreements with Brown. Chief among them is Dutton's desire to have changes ratified in a constitutional amendment, which would require approval from voters.

"Gov. Brown is proposing laws that can be repealed tomorrow by a majority vote of the Legislature," he said in a statement. "Senate Republicans want lasting pension reform placed on the ballot and protected by a vote of the people."

Anthony.york@latimes.com

Times staff writers Jack Dolan and Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.

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