Gov. Jerry Brown signed budget bills Thursday that hike community college fees and slash welfare grants, but his work on the state deficit is far from over.
The Democratic governor is still searching for Republican support to place extensions of higher taxes on the ballot as time runs out to call a mid-June election.
Brown said he isn't ruling out two alternatives that emerged this week, a November signature-driven tax initiative or a Democratic legislative vote to put taxes on the ballot.
The measures he signed Thursday address an estimated $11.2 billion of California's $26.6 billion deficit. Solving the remainder with cuts alone, he said, is a path that would "leave a lot of tears in its wake."
"Before they vote or before we make the cuts, the people of California will get very good insight into what it is," Brown said. "But you can be sure it will be very bad for the universities. It will be very bad for schools. It will be very bad for public safety. It will be very bad for care of the mentally ill."
Amid signs that talks are intensifying, a handful of Senate GOP legislators continue to negotiate with Democrats on a potential compromise that includes pension cuts, spending restraints and changes to environmental laws.
Democrats say they are amenable to some changes but Republicans have overreached,and their proposals do little to address the current deficit. Republicans say their ideas would reduce long-term problems and that Democrats are unwilling to buck labor unions.
If the taxes don't materialize, Brown would struggle to find votes for an all-cuts plan. Democrats say the cuts they approved went beyond their comfort zone, while some Republicans acknowledge there is little appetite for $12 billion in further reductions.
"Everybody has concerns about an all-cuts budget," Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said earlier this week. "There's some threshold in programs we have that nobody wants to cross. Do we believe they should be reformed? Absolutely. Services should go to the people who need them most."
Signing bills in rapid succession Thursday at the Capitol, the governor approved higher community college fees, smaller welfare grants and restrictions on Medi-Cal services. Other legislation takes money from First 5 childhood development programs and borrows from special funds.
"These are painful cuts," Brown said. "It hits vulnerable people. But when you have a deficit, you have to do something."
While the governor emphasized he still wants to broker a bipartisan deal soon, he said he's "not excluding any pathway to give the people the right to vote."
"I find it shocking that elected representatives can so cavalierly say to people, 'Shut up, you have no right to weigh in on this.' "
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Thursday that talks need to wrap up this week. He acknowledged that Democrats were eyeing alternatives, though he said his "mood meter" was positive because talks with Republicans were becoming more specific.
Even if the tax plan reaches the ballot, a new Public Policy Institute of California poll suggests voters may reject the plan. The survey, taken March 8-15, found 46 percent of likely voters in support of the tax hike extensions, compared with 45 percent against.
Brown's finance director, Ana Matosantos, said the bills signed Thursday include $8.2 billion in cuts, $300 million in revenue and $2.6 billion in internal borrowing and transfers.
Republicans dispute that calculation, saying at least $2.8 billion in cuts should be classified as fund shifts since they reduce funding to local government programs rather than state general fund spending.
"These are many of the same gimmicks, borrowing and fund shifts we've seen in the past, and these are the same problems that got us into this mess," said Sabrina Lockhart, spokeswoman for Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare.
Many of the cuts will take effect in July because they require advance notice. The Medi-Cal reductions, which include lower payments to doctors and patient co-payments, require approval from the federal government.
Lawmakers approved the health and welfare cuts last week on bipartisan votes, but Democrats passed cuts to education and public safety without GOP support. Their package of bills contained $14 billion in solutions.
The governor claimed credit for taking that much out of the $26.6 billion deficit. But the total worth of the 13 bills he signed Thursday was less than $14 billion.
Brown is waiting to sign the main budget bill, which the Department of Finance estimates has about $2.8 billion in additional cuts, until after he knows whether voters approve tax measures.