Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez said today that he is not considering trying to place a multibillion-dollar tax extension on the June ballot by a simple majority vote of the Democrat-controlled Legislature, which would sidestep Republicans.
The Los Angeles Democrat downplayed a legislative counsel's opinion, sought by Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton, that said such a measure could be placed before voters by a majority vote of the Assembly and Senate, under narrow circumstances.
"No," Pérez said flatly today when asked if he is entertaining such a plan in light of Republicans' failure to support the extension, which is designed to raise $11 billion in sales, income and vehicle taxes over 18 months.
"There is not a single legal analysis that I think holds any water that says we could legitimately put this question before voters on a simple majority vote," Pérez told a lunch meeting of the Sacramento Press Club.
Pérez said voters made it clear last November, in passing Propositions 25 and 26, that they support allowing the Legislature to pass a state budget with a simple majority vote but want a two-thirds margin for hiking taxes or fees.
"I know that Senator Dutton has suggested that there's a way for us to do this as a simple majority effort. Had I proposed it, the Republicans would have been up in arms, saying that I was trying to thwart the will of the public," Pérez said.
The Assembly speaker accused Republicans of "trying to abdicate their responsibility as elected officials" by suggesting that Democrats could decide the issue without Republican support.
Dutton, in requesting the legal opinion, was not advocating a majority vote by the Legislature to place the tax extension before voters, said Jann Taber, Dutton's spokeswoman.
"Republicans continue to be engaged in the budget process, to ensure that the state gets the spending reductions and reforms necessary to fix the chronic budget crisis and put Californians back to work," Taber said.
Legislative counsel said lawmakers can place tax proposals on the ballot with a majority vote if the measures change but are consistent with the "scope or effect" of statutory tax initiatives already passed by voters.
Pérez turned thumbs down.
"The budget is the single most important document we pass as a state," he said. "It needs to be seen as an expression of our collective values. Everybody's got to be a part of that discussion. And everybody's got to be responsible for trying to be a constructive player in this.
"So, for that reason, and quite frankly for the legal reason, we're not looking at a majority solution to put the question before voters," Pérez said.
Asked about prospects for winning support from at least two Republicans apiece in the Senate and Assembly, the minimum necessary for a supermajority vote to place the tax extension before voters, Pérez said that "I think there's room for optimism."
If the tax exension fails to qualify for the ballot, could Pérez support cutting the state budget by at least $12 billion more than the $12.5 billion in reductions already proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown?
Perez hedged, saying only that he thinks the extension ultimately will come before voters and "that's going to be my focus."
EDITOR'S NOTE: This post was updated at 3:20 p.m. to add a comment from Sen. Bob Dutton's spokeswoman.
PHOTO CREDIT: John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, talks with reporters on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009. (AP file photo/ Rich Pedroncelli)