Gov. Jerry Brown's prospects of reaching a budget deal by his deadline this week dimmed markedly Monday when a quintet of Republicans with whom he'd been negotiating declared an impasse.
The GOP senators for the first time released a list of demands covering pensions, spending restrictions and education reforms, among other things and said the Democratic governor and his legislative allies were unable to fulfill them.
"We accepted your invitation to bring you our ideas on important structural reforms and willingly took to heart your admonition 'to get out of our comfort zone,' " the Republican senators state in a letter to the Democratic governor. "Although it is clear that you engaged in our conversations seriously, it appears we have reached an impasse in our discussions about how to move the state forward."
Brown needs at least two Republican votes in each house to achieve a two-thirds majority necessary to ask voters to extend for five years sales, income and vehicle tax increases imposed in 2009. He had set a deadline this week in order to schedule a June 7 election, less than a month before the new fiscal year arrives July 1.
Monday's development imperils that plan.
Brown, facing a $26.6 billion budget deficit and speaking to the California Community Colleges Board of Governors on Monday, acknowledged that he might not reach a deal by Thursday, his self-imposed deadline.
"I think it might take a few more days than that at the rate we're going," he said.
"If you know any Republican," Brown said, "tell them that he or she should vote to give the people a voice."
Republicans remain steadfast in their opposition. In their letter Monday, the Republican senators said they presented proposals for a spending cap and for pension, tax, civil service and regulatory changes. The proposals, they said, were either rejected or greatly watered down.
"We have therefore concluded that you are unable to compel other stakeholders to accept real reform," says the letter signed by Sens. Tom Berryhill of Oakdale, Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo, Anthony Cannella of Ceres, Bill Emmerson of Hemet and Tom Harman of Huntington Beach.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, called the letter a "little bit disappointing," and said there needs to be "less posturing and more actual negotiations" in the ongoing budget talks.
"Let's not negotiate through platitudes. If they found the governor's response to their lengthy list insufficient, then counter the counter (offer) and let's get this done," he said.
Steinberg said he is still planning to bring budget action to the floor Wednesday and Thursday.
"Seventy-two hours is a lifetime in this business," he said.
Though Thursday's deadline was intended to allow elections officials time to prepare for a June 7 election, the date is not inflexible. Still, it will be a political setback if Brown fails to reach an accord by then, observers say.
"There's no question about it, that the governor expended some political capital when he announced that he wanted agreement by that date," said Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State University. "Is it a bit of a black eye? Perhaps, but you know, he has shown a great ability this time around to take a punch and get back up."
California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring issued a statement declaring that Brown "is already making excuses for failing to deliver as promised. Republicans have offered their ideas to bring permanent reform to the table but Jerry Brown refuses to engage them."
As he has before, Brown said Monday he will consider reforms advocated by Republicans, but he urged lawmakers not to "load down" the June ballot with other matters.
"We can take a piece of it," Brown said. "But we can't take everything, you know, including the kitchen sink, and throw it on the table, and before the end of this week come up with an answer."
He said some Republican lawmakers who might otherwise support putting tax extensions on the ballot have been threatened with reprisals from within the GOP. He declined to identify any of those lawmakers.
"There is a lot of fear that the entire machinery of the more conservative elements will be turned against whoever votes to put this on the ballot," Brown said.
With the GOP's spring convention coming to Sacramento in less than two weeks, Brown said, "They feel that their heads will be on a stick."
Brown has said he will propose an all-cuts budget if tax extensions fail to reach the ballot or are voted down, about doubling the spending cuts he currently proposes. Democratic lawmakers are unlikely to endorse such a budget.
On Monday, Brown said that if his tax plan fails, "We'll either get an all-cuts budget or government will be paralyzed, and they'll just sit there like they have in years past until they run out of cash."