Gov. Jerry Brown dismissed notions today that he can go back to GOP lawmakers for higher taxes if his November initiative fails, saying "there is fear in the eyes of Republicans when the tax word is uttered in their presence."
To make his point, the Democratic governor recounted a tale from the final week of session (watch the video here) when he lobbied Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, for a 1 percent lumber tax during a chance encounter in the Capitol basement garage. LaMalfa has since resigned his post for the remainder of the year as he runs for Congress, but until last week he represented wide swaths of forest in the north state.
"He kind of got into a little fetal position and started shaking, he literally was shaking," Brown told The Bee editorial board of LaMalfa, repeating the gesture for effect. "And this big man, he looks like a -- wears boots, he's kind of an outdoorsman, a mountain man kind of. And I saw him kind of start shriveling in fear of, I guess, it was the FlashReport or (Grover) Norquist or whoever the hell it was."
Since May, Brown has pushed for a 1 percent tax on all lumber purchased in California to raise $30 million for regulating timber harvests in the state. The forestry industry backed the proposal because it relieves California firms from costs associated with submitting tree-cutting plans for review while having consumers pay a tax on all lumber, including imports that represent the majority of wood purchased here.
The heavily lobbied proposal, Assembly Bill 1492, nearly died early Saturday morning before barely clearing the state Assembly en route to Brown's desk.
LaMalfa dismissed Brown's garage story as the governor "trying to have some fun there. Obviously, I didn't drop to the floor of the garage and shake."
LaMalfa said he expressed serious concerns to Brown, and not all had to do with the tax element. He said his biggest complaint was the bill did not go far enough in limiting future liability for wildfire damages, an issue that Union Pacific raised in its own opposition letter.
He also said Republicans were concerned that they would help impose the tax only to see Democrats reverse some of the forestry-friendly policy changes in future years and divert funds away from timber regulation.
"My mannerism with the governor, I'm always going to be respectful of the governor and not just tell him 'no,' " LaMalfa said. "So I was actually being deferential."
Later in the conversation with the editorial board, Brown disputed the idea that the 1 percent lumber charge is a tax, even though it was drafted as a two-thirds supermajority tax measure under the constitution. The governor said "that's clearly a fee" because the money goes back toward regulating the timber industry.
He acknowledged that it had to be drafted as a tax because consumers have to pay 1 percent on wood cut outside the state -- which won't benefit from oversight funded by the charge. But Brown called that "an equity adjustment to protect the interests of California."