MANNY CRISOSTOMO / mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, right, talks with Assemblyman Martin Garrick, R-Solana Beach, center, and state Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency.

Jerry Brown, Grover Norquist spar on tax plan

Published: Wednesday, May. 25, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Wednesday, May. 25, 2011 - 9:55 am

Gov. Jerry Brown said Tuesday he is actively negotiating a budget deal with Republicans while conservative activist Grover Norquist roamed Capitol hallways urging GOP leaders to hold the line against taxes.

The two never met, though they had plenty to say about one another.

"Can Norquist spook the legislators?" Brown told reporters after speaking with California State University presidents. "I don't believe so. I think he's going to come out here to California and meet his match."

Norquist wields a big stick when it comes to California's budget: A one-sentence pledge against higher taxes signed by nearly all GOP lawmakers. The president of Washington, D.C.-based Americans for Tax Reform says placing a tax measure on the ballot for voters to decide, as Brown wants, would violate the promise.

His visit came eight days after Brown issued a new budget that relies on extensions of higher tax rates on sales and vehicles, as well as a return to higher income taxes, to bridge a remaining $9.6 billion deficit. Lawmakers already approved cuts to higher education and health and welfare in March.

Norquist said he traveled to Sacramento to meet with legislators "serious about stopping tax increases." Besides meeting with Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and other lawmakers, Norquist finished the day as the featured guest at a wine and cheese reception for the "Taxpayers Caucus," a group of 30 GOP members opposed to Brown's tax proposals.

Asked about the fact that three of his pledge signatories met regularly with Brown this spring, Norquist said, "I think the voters in their districts expect them to keep (their pledge)."

Brown said he was optimistic about a deal with at least two Republicans in each house because he can "read their feelings." Brown said voters should decide on the higher tax rates, not "visiting ideologues from the Potomac River."

Norquist dismissed such criticism.

"People who say, 'What are you Yankees doing down here, interfering,' sound a lot like one of those bad '50s movies about the South," Norquist said. "Do they really mean to sound that provincial?"

He pointed to California activists like Flash Report blogger Jon Fleischman and Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President Jon Coupal as guardians of his pledge in California. Asked how he would otherwise balance the state budget, Norquist suggested more transparency in state spending before Coupal pointed to high prison costs and union contracts.

According to Americans for Tax Reform, all but two California GOP lawmakers have signed the pledge - Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo. Both were part of the "GOP 5" that negotiated with Brown earlier this year.

Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, R-Ceres, believes he should be removed from the list. His chief of staff, Evan Oneto, said Berryhill did not sign the pledge in 2010, though he did sign in 2008.

"And furthermore, any discussions Bill has had with the governor have been about the possibility of an election, not a tax increase – and therefore would not violate the ATR pledge anyway," Oneto wrote in an e-mail.

The group's director of state affairs, Patrick M. Gleason, disagreed. He said that any signatory must adhere to the pledge for the duration of the office unless the signatory publicly renounces it. He also said placing a tax measure on the ballot is "an assist in the effort to raise taxes."

Despite his criticism of Norquist, Brown did not dismiss the significance of his presence at the Capitol.

"It's very relevant," Brown said, characterizing broader disagreement about taxes and spending on public services as "the debate."

"There are millions of people who are devotees of the Norquist view of life," Brown said. "I'm not one of them."

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