Governor Working With Limited Options After Ending Budget Talks With GOP Lawmakers
What budget options does Governor Jerry Brown have left now that he has walked away from negotiations with state Republicans? We speak to political consultant Leo McElroy about the latest news coming out of Sacramento, and discuss how teachers and other state workers will be impacted if the legislature passes an "all cuts" budget.
Leo McElroy, non-partisan Sacramento political consultant and contributor to Morning Edition on KPBS
This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Plan A is dead. Now governor brown has to move on to plan B. Plan A was to hold a special election in June asking California voters to extend a handful of temporary taxes and fees. . That extension was supposed to ease deep cuts threatened for California's schools and social programs. But negotiations between Republicans and Jerry Brown have broken down. And now there's no time to get a ballot measure ready for a June election. So the deep cuts threatened to balance California's $15 billion budget deficit are more likely, although not inevitable. It all depends on what the Governor's Plan B actually is. Joining us to discuss the continuing turmoil in Sacramento is my guest, Leo McElroy, nonpartisan political consultant, and contributor to KPBS morning edition. Leo, Good morning.
MCELROY: Good morning, Maureen. How are you?
CAVANAUGH: I'm fine. Thank you so much for joining us today.
CAVANAUGH: So why, if you could recap for us, why did the Governor break off his budget talks with state Republicans?
MCELROY: Well, he was trying to pick off some Republicans who might be willing to throw a vote in in exchange for some concessions. And he was working with a group of five Republican senators who at one point or another were willing to engage with him in conversation. Apparently either the conversations were going less well than anybody thought or party discipline has intruded and the GOP five as they were called, have backed out of the fray and turned things over to party leadership. Party leadership's response has been to come in with a huge laundry list of demands that they want before they will deliver 1 or 2 votes to make the special election happen. And the laundry list was extensive enough that the governor felt that there was no way that he could get these concessions through the legislature. And so he threw up his hands and walked away from the table, and now nobody's talking to anybody.
CAVANAUGH: So Leo, what options does the governor have for reaching a budget agreement, let's say in the near future now that these talks have fallen apart?
MCELROY: Very few, and none of them pleasant.
MCELROY: Legislative Democrats are now starting to face the fact that they may have to pass pay budget on their own without a Republican vote, which they now can do. That's been amended. But they can't raise money to balance that been, so they may have to face a really ugly all cuts budget. And nobody's happy about that. Of the people who are going to suffer the cuts, the people who are going to be shown what bad shape the state is in, and the politicians who are gonna take the blame for the cuts. Nobody likes this. The Republicans don't like the extent of the cuts, the Democrats don't like it, the governor doesn't like it, are the people don't like it. We are united in unhappiness.
CAVANAUGH: But nothing else.
MCELROY: That's it.
CAVANAUGH: So is there any chance that a special election could happen later this summer, or is that basically out until November?
MCELROY: Politically, it's gone. Between the time frame that it takes to do it, you couldn't get it on at in June at that point, you'd have to wait till July. [CHECK AUDIO] in terms of who the electors who are home for that election. People travel a lot during the summer. And so you're never sure who's going to be around. But you can bet that you're losing a chunk of the voting pool at any given time during the summer because people are off roving the world, trying to forget their troubles. And you don't know quite which segment has been traveling and whose votes you're losing, who you have to appeal to. And uncertainty makes politicians even more disagreeable than usual.
CAVANAUGH: You know, Leo, you read the accounts of what's been going on during these budget negotiations, and it's really hard to make sense out of them. From what I understand, governor brown already cut $11 billion, and therefore whittled down the budget deficit to $15 billion, and there seems, am I wrong in saying this, there seems to have been very little movement on the Republican side towards any kind of comp mice with the governor.
MCELROY: That's exactly the situation. There's been virtually no movement. There have been some suggestions, some of which the governor's shown some interest in. The governor's unveiled his own pension reform plan, for example, and pension reform on public employees is one of the major Republican items. But this there are also Republican items that have nothing to do with balancing the budget, that have nothing to do with the state's fiscal situation. For example, one of the Republican demands is to move the presidential primary to March. They want to be early in their presidential primary because there will be a Republican race to run in 2012. A lot of candidates, and they'd like to be up there early. Well, are it's a little tough to find a connection between that and the budget situation. But if you're Republicans, and you say, ah, ha, we have two votes to give you that could make the balance, what can we get for the two votes? At this point, their price tag is too high.
CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Leo McElroy, he's nonpartisan Sacramento political consultant, and of course a contributor to morning edition here on KPBS. Of and we're talking about the fact that Governor Brown's plan to have a special election in June to ask voters to extend some temporary taxes and fees seems to have fallen through. And just to be clear, Leo, did the governor need two thirds of the legislature in order to get that ballot measure on the ballot so to speak?
MCELROY: Are well, there is a legal battle over this. Basically, yes, he needs two thirds to put that on because it's a revenue measure. And the voters in their wisdom chose to say yes, you can pass a budget now with a majority, but you can't raise money without a super majority, without a two thirds majority. The Republicans did get a legal opinion that under certain, very limited, circumstances, a majority vote could put a revenue measure on the ballot. But -- and the legal technicalities are just numerous, but to try to sum up, essentially it can only be done if you are amending a revenue measure that was already passed by the initiative process.
CAVANAUGH: Huh. Right.
MCELROY: It's a little tough to fit into that framework.
MCELROY: People are looking at us, scratching thirds requirement heads, saying is there a way to do this? And I tell you, there are people working on if right now. As we speak, there are people still had you had huddled over their desk trying to find some way to fit some revenue measures into previous initiatives as amendments to those so that they can pass them on a majority vote. Nobody I know believes that there is a way to make up $15 billion by doing that.
CAVANAUGH: Right. And the reason that people are struggling so hard to try to figure out a way to do this, even if it's impossible is because there's real fear that attends the idea of actually having to cut an additional $15 billion from this already pared down budget, and mostly that fear falls on California's teachers. How will they be affected if the state legislature has to pass the all cuts budget?
MCELROY: You know, I was just talking with a San Diego teacher yesterday about this. And she was saying, you know, we saw our class sizes diminish and we saw education get better when we cut down the lower grades to 20 students in the classroom instead of 32. And she said, you know, now there's the fear that we're going back up, we're up to 26, and it's going to go up beyond that. That's one of the real problems is larger class sizes. But it's not just larger class size. It's also a shortening of the school year. There's serious talk of cutting a week to ten days off the school year. The potential allotted teacher layoffs as a result of pulling classes together and enlarging the class sizes. You're gonna see a lot of this, and education is going to take a real clout in this thing because it is such a major part of the state budget, it's gonna be one of the places that has to be cut. You can't basically make up 15 billion without cutting education.
CAVANAUGH: The California federation of teachers has proposed a one percent tax hike on the top one hearsay of earners in the state. That might raise about two and a half billion dollars for the state. How far do you think a proposal like that could go?
MCELROY: Well, if you put it in the initiative process, and you go out and get signatures, you can possibly get it on the ballot in November. It'd be difficult. You'd have to rush like mad, but you could possibly do that. If you count on getting it through the legislature, you'd be better off going home and working on jigsaw puzzles because there's no way that that measure is going to pass the legislature. The Republicans will not deliver votes to pass that measure. That's just an item of faith now with Republicans, and anybody who strays from the path and votes for a revenue measure is threatened with instant political reprisals.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Governor Brown worked on a plan to exchange the pension system for public workers in a way to try to encourage Republicans to work with him oncoming to some sort of resolution on the budget deficit. But the governor's plan is vague. What have you heard about that issue?
MCELROY: Well, that's one of the problems with it is that it is a vague plan. The other is that the fiscal elements of it particularly are hard to define. And the -- any predictions as to how it would work out have to be colored with the fact that the legislative analyst's office just did an analysis of the new corrects that Governor Brown negotiated with several of the state employee unions which included, by the way, pension reform. And concluded that the amount of money that the governor's office said was being saved by these renegotiated contracts was not in fact the amount that was being saved. But they saved much less than that, that they're not nearly as good as advertised. And the legislative analysts is pretty nonpartisan. They have an awfully good record of calling the shots the way they see them. When they say that these savings that were advertised are not as good as was forecast, it makes you think, gee, well, I wonder how the numbers are on the rest of the governor's pension plan.
CAVANAUGH: A lot of the reviews, as if you could call them that, are the opinion pieces after these budget talks broke down between the governor and the legislature were characterized in a way as a failure for Governor Brown since he made settling this budget such an important part, are the pivotal part of his campaign to be governor. Do you see it as a failure?
MCELROY: No, not at all. The governor inherited a terrible situation. He's inherited a mess, and he's set about trying to fix it. That it may turn out to be unfixable is not his fault. I think the governor has worked really hard trying to pull some pieces together and trying to talk to Republicans, on trying to achieve a bipartisan solution, on being willing to embrace a lot of cuts. I think Jerry Brown has worked extremely hard and has been a surprise to a lot of people that he has stuck to this so well, battled really manfully to try to pull answers together. It's not his fault that the answers aren't there we have a dysfunctional government, we have an economic situation that's a mess, we have a government which historically spent a lot more than it should have spent over the years. If you want to blame Governor Brown, you don't blame Governor Brown two today, you blame the Governor Brown from years ago who was part of that massive spending thing that saw us over commit funds way back when we had a lot of money.
CAVANAUGH: In his YouTube video, the way he announced the break down of these budget talks, he kind of ended it saying, you know, I've been around a long time, and I'm gonna keep up the fight. How do you see him keeping up the fight? What is his plan B?
MCELROY: Well, I think the governor at this point has two elements to it. Other than the hope that somehow he feels a Republican or two, that a couple of Republicans sneak away from the party caucus, and sneak in and say, you know, if I do this, maybe I might give a vote. But that seems a pretty forlorn hope. So right now, it leaves him two things: Publish an all cuts budget and let the public know now painful it's going to be. Make it clear where the cuts are going to have to happen. And go to the public and start getting support for signatures to try to put something on the ballot by the initiative process. Probably a revenue measure.
CAVANAUGH: And in fact I heard that Governor Brown is going to embark on something of a tour of California making that kind of case to the people.
MCELROY: Yeah, he does whistle stop really well. He's a veteran politician in that, and back in the years when I was reporting and covering his administration, we got used to Jerry Brown whistle stops. He likes to get out and do that. He doesn't do a lot of the security trappings, he likes to travel around, he likes to talk to a lot of people. He does it well. And this is -- this is Jerry Brown at his prime, going out and taking that fight to the people. Whether he can get results out of it is another problem.
CAVANAUGH: Exactly, we'll see how plan B turns out. Leo, thank you.
MCELROY: You bet, Maureen. Take care.
CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with Leo McElroy, and if you would like to comment, please go on like, KPBS.org/These Days. Coming up, this year's Kyoto laureate in arts and philosophy. William Kentridge is my guest as These Days continues here on KPBS.