From left, L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce officials George Kieffer and Joe… (Jason Redmond, Associated…)
Gov. Jerry Brown picked up endorsements for his budget plan from two Los Angeles-area business groups Friday while attempting to mollify persistent skeptics of the proposal.
Both the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and Valley Industry & Commerce Assn. announced support for the governor's spending blueprint, which includes the renewal of billions of dollars in annual income, sales and vehicle taxes for five years, contingent upon voter approval.
Brown has said that without the additional revenue, he would close the state's $25-billion deficit with spending cuts alone. Chamber chairman Joseph Czyzyk said the governor's call for taxes was "not our first choice" and asserted that the levies would have a "negative short-term impact on our economy" but said it "doesn't compare to the devastation that $25 billion in cuts will have to education infrastructure and social services."
Chamber of Commerce leaders also had some suggestions. Czyzyk said the group would like to see changes in the public pension system and an easing of environmental regulations as part of a final budget deal. He also suggested that the taxes sought by Brown be extended for just three years.
"I prefer five years myself," Brown replied, appearing to dismiss the suggestion.
Brown is hoping the group's endorsement will lead to backing from other business groups, which in turn could press Republican lawmakers to allow an election on taxes later this year. Brown needs some Republican votes to put a tax measure on the ballot.
The chamber's officials estimate that their membership is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, although they do not poll members about party registration.
The Valley association's leaders said their group is also a mixture of Democrats and Republicans. Chairman Daymond Rice said a decision about whether to balance the state's books with taxes "should be left up to those who will bear the burden — the voters."
Friday's announcements mark the first formal backing of his plan from any business organization. No Republican lawmakers have embraced it.
The endorsements were downplayed by conservative activists, who hold considerable sway over Republican legislators and have staked a strong position against Brown's plan. Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., dismissed the Los Angeles Chamber as "an outlier among the business community when it comes to true business and taxpayer interests."
Noting the group's endorsement of previous tax increases, Coupal said, "I can't recall a single instance when the L.A. chamber has taken a pro-taxpayer position."
After a midday press conference with chamber leaders at their downtown headquarters, Brown went to the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky for a two-hour meeting. The supervisor has emerged as a key voice for local leaders wary of the governor's proposal to ease the burdens on state government by shifting some healthcare and public safety responsibilities to county governments.
Yaroslavsky said he was concerned about the lack of detail in those pieces of Brown's proposal, which he and other local officials fear could cost them money. He said Brown promised to provide those details to county leaders by Monday.
"Rushing to make these kind of fateful decisions is a prescription for trouble," Yaroslavsky said. "Nobody's had a chance to vet this."