Jerry Brown Weighs Special Budget Election

Californians may be asked to solve their state's perennial budget crisis themselves under a plan being considered by Governor-elect Jerry Brown, according to The Los Angeles Times .

Brown, who has been meeting with legislators and interest groups over a budget shortfall estimated at more than $25 billion over the next year and a half, is considering a proposal under which lawmakers would send voters a package of tax hikes for their approval in a special election by summer, The Times reports. The proposal would likely require the state's infamously knotted Legislature to approve a budget by March 2011 — far earlier than it typically does — in order to hold the election before the new fiscal year begins in July. If the plan fails, according to The Times, Californians would be forced to live with an "austerity budget" marked by "far fewer government services."

Bob Dutton, the Republican Senate minority leader who has been in on meetings with Brown, says the new governor wants to "rip the Band-Aid off" and, as a possible way of doing so, has "intimated strongly that he wanted to go to the ballot."

Brown himself has kept a low profile in recent weeks as he has held budget discussions, but he emerged Wednesday (December 8) to announce to legislators and the media that the state's budget crisis is worse than feared, The New York Times reports . Among the reasons: The tax deal that President Obama and Republicans negotiated this week in Washington would slice California revenues by another $2.7 billion through decreased estate taxes. The news was just a small part of an "unrelenting barrage of gloom" to emerge from the meeting, as The Times puts it.

"As a cold rain fell outside the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, the news — delivered by state budget officials to an audience that included about 500 state and local legislators — got progressively bleak," The Times says. "Unless something is done, California faces annual $20 billion deficits for at least the next five years. Unemployment will not return to pre-recession levels until 2015. And the title of one slide projected on the screen behind the panel? 'Worse next year than this year.' "

Outgoing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called lawmakers into a special session earlier this week, but the prospects of a major budget deal between the lame-duck Republican governor and the Democratic-held Legislature appeared slim. 


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