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Deadline Blown

What are the odds of a budget deal?



    Deadline Blown
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    SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 03: Jerry Brown pauses as he delivers remarks after he was sworn in as the 39th governor of California by California on January 3, 2011 in Sacramento, California. Jerry Brown will begin his third term as California's governor 28 years after serving his last term. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Jerry Brown

    Two months ago, Governor Brown circled today's date as his deadline for getting a state budget deal done.
    As things have turned out, it's gone by the boards.
    No deal.

    Now, he and a splinter group of Republican senators plan to bargain through the weekend on how to close a $26 billion deficit.
    The governor's trying to flip at least a couple of GOP lawmakers in each house of the Democrat-controlled Legislature to get the super-majorities needed to pass a budget deal.
    If they don't buy what's he's selling, the numbers suggest Plan B is a doubling down on program cuts.
    "There will be blood, because he's made this vow: he's not going to sign a budget with gimmicks," says Thad Kousser, political science professor at UC San Diego.  "He's not going to see a budget like in the past few years, where we cut state government but spread the pain over the next few years -- borrow.  He's said he'll veto a budget like that."
    On the revenue side, the governor wants voters to extend prior hikes in sales, income and vehicle taxes, in a June 7th special election.
    On the spending side, he's proposing cuts over a wide range of programs, excluding K-12 education.
    Republicans are holding out for more: a state spending cap, and reforms in state pensions and business regulations.
    Is there really room to compromise?
    "Republicans don't have a big incentive unless they get a lot," says political consultant John Dadian, "unless the governor does give a lot -- which it doesn't look like he's going to do."
    Any Republican who throws in with the governor and his party is taking a calculated political risk.
    So what are the odds that tax extensions make it to the ballot?
    And wind up passing?
    "Both of those are 50-50," Kousser suggests.  "But the governor has to win on both of those gambles.  He's got to run the table in order to get California through this biggest fiscal crisis of our generation with a balanced budget."
    While the budget-deal deadline has gone fluid, "early next week" is now the operative finish line for floor votes in the Legislature.
    Beyond that, the legal benchmarks for holding a June 7 special election become more demanding, if not unreachable.