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Gov. Brown References Unrest In Egypt To Justify Tax Hike Vote

He invoked the political turmoil in Egypt and Tunisia. He read from the state constitution. And Governor Jerry Brown urged lawmakers to let California voters decide the state’s future.

Members of the California State legislature applaud as California Governor Jerry Brown (C) arrives to deliver the State of the State address at the California State Capitol on January 31, 2011 in Sacramento, California.
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Above: Members of the California State legislature applaud as California Governor Jerry Brown (C) arrives to deliver the State of the State address at the California State Capitol on January 31, 2011 in Sacramento, California.

This was Gov. Jerry Brown’s eighth State of the State Address, but his first in nearly 30 years. Unlike his predecessor, Brown opted not to use a teleprompter. And he couldn’t resist a reference to his previous speeches.

“In preparation for this I went back and I read them, said Brown. “Tedious, sometimes sobering, and a challenge to do better.”

Brown used the roughly 15-minute speech to hammer home the severity of the state’s $25 billion budget deficit. He focused on his plan to ask voters to approve an extension of three temporary tax increases. Republicans oppose that, and their support is needed to get the measure on the ballot. Brown urged them to reconsider.

“When democratic ideals and calls for the right to vote are stirring the imagination of young people in Egypt and Tunisia and other parts of the world, we in California can’t say now is the time to block a vote of the people.”

Most Republican lawmakers have signed an anti-tax pledge and they say voting to put the tax extension on the ballot violates that.

As part of his sales pitch, Brown talked about deeper cuts to schools, health programs and public safety that would be necessary without the tax extension. And throughout his speech, Brown kept coming back to the theme of letting the voters decide.

“Under our form of government, it would be unconscionable to tell the electors in this state that they have no right to decide whether it’s better to extend the taxes for another five years or chop anther $12 billion out of schools, public safety, our universities and our system of caring for the most vulnerable.”

“I don’t feel unconscionable about saying that I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway. She said it wasn’t so much what Brown said, as what he didn’t say that bothered her.

“I think it’s the same thing we always hear and that’s taxes, taxes, taxes,” said Conway. “If we could be as specific on the other items as we are on ‘we want to tax you,’ maybe we could get somewhere.”

Conway said those items include changes to state worker pensions and limiting regulations to make the state more business-friendly.

GOP Senator Sam Blakeslee said it’s those issues, as well as changes to the state’s tax code, that may provide the only path to compromise between Republicans and Democrats on the budget.

“If he wants to have ballot measures that talk about tough issues, maybe we should add some of that talk about pension, tax, regulatory reform,” said Blakeslee. “All I’m saying is, if you really want to give the people a chance to vote, I bet there’s some subjects which he would not want to see a vote of the people.”

Democrats praised Brown’s message. Assemblyman Mike Feuer said it was in keeping with the Brown’s approach to the governorship so far.

“Straight talk, to the point, no baloney, which I think is exactly what the people in the state are looking for,” Feuer said.

Democratic Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg said despite the partisan divide, he’s not giving up on getting Republican support for Governor Brown’s budget plan.

“I am confident – not over-confident – confident in the end that we’re going to get this one the ballot, partly because there’s no other choice,” Steinberg said.

To get the tax extension measure onto the ballot, lawmakers must act by early March. That’s an accelerated timeline for a legislature that produces chronically late budgets.

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