Gov. Jerry Brown has gained plenty of mileage so far out of seemingly simple acts. His latest: appearing today before a legislative committee for an hour to sell his budget plan.
The Democratic governor gave his firmest commitment yet to a cuts-only budget if his additional taxes fail to materialize. He suggested at one point that such a budget might require four or five fewer weeks of school.
"I want to make one thing clear, and that's another reason I came here: If we don't get the tax extensions, I am not going to sign a budget that is not an all-cuts budget," Brown said.
"And it's going to be turbulent," the governor added. "Because I don't want to be here four years and play games or evasion, and everything just erodes. I think we got to meet the moment of truth now. And it's either the tax extensions and the $12 billion. Or it's $25 billion or as close to that as we're going to get. And if we can't do that, then maybe we don't get a budget."
Legislative aides believe it was the first time a sitting governor had testified before a budget committee since at least the late 1960s. The novelty of the act drew scores of reporters and cameras, few of whom typically show up for budget committee hearings. It also won praise from legislators in both parties and was enough to draw lawmakers not on the panel to the room.
While his appearance went over well, Brown's budget still had a ways to go.
Democrats generally praised his approach as balanced, though some had questions about how his plan to shift responsibilities to counties would play out. Republicans questioned whether his proposal was as balanced as he insisted, and they voiced their opposition to sending his five-year tax extension to the ballot.
On the latter point, there was plenty of debate.
Brown took aim at Republicans who had pledged not to raise taxes, particularly those who joined a new "Taxpayers Caucus" this week to oppose the governor's tax vote.
He emphasized several times that Republicans should at least send the tax proposal to voters. At one point, Brown even suggested that they place it on the ballot and then campaign against the tax measure, which, he quipped, would allow them to generate ballot-issues account donations in unlimited amounts.
"When you folks say, 'No, no vote, no plan, no,' that's not American," Brown said. "It's not acceptable. And it's not loyalty to California. I don't expect you to agree with me. But I expect you to honestly say, 'I want to cut this.' "
Brown feuded most with Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, who challenged the governor's memory of his meeting with her GOP caucus. Harkey said she believed that the governor had rejected Republican ideas related to pension reform and regulatory relief during their meeting earlier this month, while Brown said he couldn't have refused those ideas because that wasn't his stance.
Harkey is one of 30 signatories to a "Taxpayers Caucus" pledge to oppose Brown's tax plan unless tax cuts are also on the ballot -- even if Democrats agree to long-term government changes that Republicans want. That didn't stop Brown from trying to cut a deal with Harkey right on the dais.
"Well, if we can get (reforms) on the ballot, would you then join and get (taxes) on the ballot?" Brown asked.
"Let me see what you're putting on," Harkey said.
"OK, but if you want to do that, that's serious, let's do it," Brown said.
"No," Harkey said.
"We want some pension reform, we want some regulatory reform," Brown continued. "I'd put a lot more than some of these folks want."
"I'm sorry, governor," Harkey said. "I'm sorry --"
"This is your chance to make them do something they don't want to do," Brown said. "All you have to do is step up and do something you don't want to do."
VIDEO CREDIT: David Siders.