After weeks of turbulent negotiations, Gov. Jerry Brown announced Tuesday he has called off talks with legislative Republicans, muddying California's path toward a budget solution.
The Democratic governor portrayed Republicans as obstructionist and said they refused to allow voters to decide whether the state should extend higher taxes on income, vehicles and sales. Republicans fired back, suggesting Brown and legislative Democrats were too beholden to labor unions and trial lawyers to reach a compromise they could support.
Brown's announcement, along with a decision by Senate Democrats to avoid a majority-vote route in the Legislature for now, scuttles the possibility of a June election.
It also casts doubt on whether lawmakers will be able to bridge a remaining $15.4 billion deficit before the next fiscal year begins in July.
The governor gave no indication of how he might proceed. He has thought about gathering signatures for a November ballot initiative, but time has begun to run short on that route.
"I'm going to explore every possible avenue," Brown said in a video message Tuesday evening. "There's more than one way to get to the goal, and over the next several weeks and months I'm going to find a way to get our budget balanced."
Meanwhile, the California Labor Federation said it is considering its own tax-related ballot initiative. Art Pulaski, the federation's executive secretary-treasurer, said his organization has made no decision on an initiative but that "we're certainly not going to sit back and watch the state fall apart. We are going to move forward."
The governor and his aides met with three first-term Senate Republicans as recently as Monday to see whether they could salvage a budget deal. But those conversations proved fruitless.
One of the three Republicans, Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, issued a statement Tuesday that praised Brown for negotiating but criticized groups that back Democrats, calling out public employee unions and trial lawyers by name.
"As a result of these groups' refusal to challenge the status quo, it has become clear the governor and legislative Democrats are not in a position to work with us to pass the measures necessary to move California forward," Cannella said. "Thus, I do not foresee a path to compromise."
Brown signed bills Thursday that erased $11.2 billion from the state's $26.6 billion deficit through a series of health, welfare and higher education cuts, as well as internal borrowing and taking money from voter-created programs for mental health and childhood development.
His budget plan also relied on extending higher tax rates for five more years, generating $11.2 billion for the current budget. Brown also sought to eliminate redevelopment agencies, end enterprise zone tax credits and change a tax formula that benefits corporations.
Republicans were opposed to all of those proposals. Brown said he was willing to work on pension changes, a cap on state spending and regulatory changes, but he did not want to go as far as Republicans on those ideas.
Brown does not need to call an election to approve higher taxes; he can do so with a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. But he promised voters last year he would seek their opinion before seeking more taxes.
Democrats have examined whether their majority-vote budget powers give them an ability to place taxes on the ballot without Republicans. But that route is legally risky, and Brown appears skeptical, stating Tuesday that the constitution requires two Republicans in each house to put his plan on the ballot.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he does not plan to pursue the majority-vote option for June, essentially dousing plans for an election that month. "They've done a pretty good job of running out the clock here," Steinberg said, referring to legislative Republicans.
Talks grew particularly rocky Friday after Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, gave Brown a long wish list of policy changes, ranging from a permanent spending cap to changing the date of next year's presidential primary.
After the Republicans left his office Friday, Brown wrote them a letter that said he was "very surprised (and frankly, disappointed) that you came today with a very long list of demands (53 separate proposals), many of which are new and have no relationship whatsoever to the budget." On the bottom of the letter, Brown wrote a note, "Let's get moving!"
Republicans were discouraged that Brown had released some contents of their list to reporters. Late Friday, they made that list public, including notes of where Brown had acquiesced on certain points, a move that appeared to blow up talks.