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Brown's Countdown: State of the State: Let the Voters Decide

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, February 1, 2011

This was Governor 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.  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 dollar 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 part 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."

That's Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway.  She says 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.  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 says those items include changes to state worker pensions and limiting regulations to make the state more business-friendly.   GOP Senator Sam Blakeslee says 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 that talk about pension, tax, regulatory reform.  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 says it was in keeping with 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."

Democratic Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg says 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."

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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