NPR logo California Gov. Brown Gets Everyone's Attention With Historic Budget Veto

California Gov. Brown Gets Everyone's Attention With Historic Budget Veto

California Gov. Jerry Brown, Thursday, June 16, 2011 at a Los Angeles news conference. Damian Dovarganes/AP hide caption

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Damian Dovarganes/AP

California Gov. Jerry Brown, Thursday, June 16, 2011 at a Los Angeles news conference.

Damian Dovarganes/AP

Who needs Hollywood when there's drama like that playing out in Sacramento, California?

Of course, watching Gov. Jerry Brown's YouTube video in which he explained why he vetoed on Thursday the budget the state legislature sent to him isn't as exciting as a choreographed high-speed car chase. But it does involve a few collisions.


Statehouse Democrats who are in the majority in both chambers passed a budget with accounting tricks and tax increases which Brown had warned them would invite his veto. That was one collision.

Meanwhile, in another collision, Republicans refused to yield in their opposition to a state referendum on new taxes that the governor desires unless Democrats make changes to state pensions, spending and regulations which GOP lawmakers said were driving up costs and impeding economic growth.

Republicans accuse Democrats of protecting labor unions.

As NPR's Carrie Kahn reported for Morning Edition on Friday, Brown is trying to raise pressure on Republicans and force them to back down. And, of course, there's the obligatory fingerpointing back and forth across the partisan divide:

CARRIE: The Democrat's plan made deep cuts to higher education and the state's courts. It also included selling off state property, taxing online sales and raising car registration fees.

Brown said those one-time fixes were unacceptable. Speaking in Los Angeles, he tried to halt the blame game with his fellow Democrats and he took aim at Republicans. He said if they continue to block a special election, he'll be forced to pursue what he called more destructive cuts to schools and law enforcement. Brown said Republicans will bear full responsibility.

BROWN: But I'm certainly going to give them the chance to become heroes rather than people who become complicit in the destruction of our universities and our schools and our public safety.

CARRIE: GOP lawmakers say they aren't the blame for the budget impasse. Jann Taber, is the spokeswoman for Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton. She says Republicans have maintained all along they'll vote for a special election only if it includes a referendum to reform public pensions and a meaningful spending cap.

TABER: There was no need for this mess this week, but the governor couldn't stand up to the powerful public employee unions and that's why we are in this mess right now.

CARRIE: It's unclear what's next in the budget negotiations.
Larry Gerston, political science professor at San Jose State University, says the state's schools and local governments are once again held hostage to Sacramento's bickering.

GERSTON: For 23 out of the last 25 years we've gone into July 1st without a balanced year and at this point it looks like this could be yet again a very long summer.

One interesting aspect of this story is how Brown seems to have successfully triangulated between the statehouse Democrats and Republicans.

That sense is captured in a quote from a Democratic official who seems somewhat bewildered by Brown's position.

From the Los Angeles Times story by Shane Goldmacher and Anthony York:

"We are deeply dismayed," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). "The governor, I think, is ... a little bit confused between total victory ... and progress."

Lovely quote. Makes Brown sound like Gen. George Patton as played by George C. Scott.

The LA Times also quotes a political science professor who sees Brown's veto as a way to get everyone's attention that he means business. Negotiating tends to work better when the others at the table take you seriously.

Thad Kousser, a professor of political science at UC San Diego, suggested that Brown's veto was essential to maintaining his authority in future talks.

"Once you show that you cave in one negotiation," he said, "you may have to cave in all future negotiations."