SACRAMENTO -- Assembly Speaker John Perez signaled his willingness to consider reforms that Republicans are demanding in exchange for a possible vote to place tax extensions on the ballot, one of the strongest indications yet that budget negotiations could be on track to meet Gov. Jerry Brown's March 10 deadline.

"All options are on the table," Perez said at a Sacramento Press Club luncheon Wednesday, when asked if he is open to pension and regulatory reforms that Republicans have called for.

His comment came at a time when Brown, Perez and Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, are scrambling to cobble together enough support to push Brown's budget through the Legislature and place on the ballot a measure to extend current taxes on purchases, income and autos. Brown has set a March 10 deadline to allow for a June special election.

Perez said he is not considering taking a simple majority vote on tax extensions in the Assembly, saying it would be a legally tenuous move. He said he remains confident Democrats can attract the minimum of two Republicans needed in the Assembly and two in the Senate for the required two-thirds vote on placing a tax issue before voters. He also rejected the premise that he'd have to accept an all-cuts budget that Brown has promised if Republicans don't come on board.

"I think we can get it qualified on the ballot and that's going to be my focus," he said, referring to getting Republican votes for putting the tax extension on the ballot -- not starting a signature-gathering campaign.


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"I know the majority of Republicans don't want to run the state into the ground," Perez said. "I'm hopeful that enough of them will look past the practice of fratricide and intimidation by some in their party to do what's right for California."

Signs of divisions among Republicans have emerged to give Democrats hope that a two-thirds vote for the ballot measure is within reach. A dozen Republican legislators recently refused to join a newly formed Taxpayer Caucus, which vowed to oppose tax extensions, an indication that they are trying to keep lines of communication open to Brown so they can extract long sought-after pension and regulatory reforms.

"It's just trying to be relevant and fix the problem so that we don't have to keep going back to voters to raise taxes again," said Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, the Senate GOP caucus chairman who refused to join the taxpayer caucus. "I'm hoping to negotiate something. I want to get at reforms that change the way the state operates. If you're going to get at the problem, which is some of the regulations, pensions, you're taking yourself off the negotiating table if you say we won't" talk about tax extensions.

Perez, a Los Angeles Democrat, also gave his most emphatic endorsement of Brown's plan to eliminate redevelopment agencies, despite a concerted campaign to preserve them by mayors across the state, including his cousin, Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles.

That would clear one of the most contentious hurdles confronting Democrats. "My preference is to not eliminate them, but the realities of the day indicates there's not yet a viable alternative to elimination," Perez said. "It's a likelihood that we'll see action to eliminate redevelopment agencies." Mayors from California's largest cities had proposed a borrowing scheme to keep the current redevelopment agency system intact, but Perez said Brown's approach of replacing it with more localized efforts to focus on blight and affordable housing is a better way to go.

An administration source who asked not to be identified confirmed earlier this week that Democratic resistance to the plan to eliminate redevelopment agencies had all but evaporated.

Brown is seeking to close a $26.6 billion deficit, calling for $12 billion in spending reductions and asking voters to extend the current level of taxes on purchases, income and autos for another five years.

It takes a two-thirds vote to put the extension on the ballot, so he needs two Republicans in each legislative chamber to approve it.

Since introducing his plan nearly two months ago, Brown has been wooing legislators with an intensely inside game of private meetings. He has declined to identify the Republicans he's met with. But a key clue emerged when the anti-tax Taxpayer Caucus was formed, showing a dozen Republicans hadn't joined.

GOP Senate Leader Bob Dutton, Rancho Cucamonga, was one of the prominent names not listed in the caucus, though he has said he is not willing to go along with a tax extension. He said this week he is aware that other members may be talking with Brown but hasn't been told whether they're negotiating to put the tax extension on the ballot.

Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, R-Visalia, has also notably kept her distance from the caucus. All year, she has said that her members are not interested in a deal for tax extensions, but has invariably kept her options open with the artful use of the phrase, "at this time."

Others who are not a part of the Taxpayer Caucus: Sens. Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, Bill Emmerson, R-Rancho Cucamonga, Tom Harman, R-Costa Mesa, Blakeslee, Cannella; Assembly members Katcha Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, Bill Berryhill, R-Stockton, Paul Cook, R-Yucaipa, and Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto.

Reach Steven Harmon at 916-441-2101. Follow him at Twitter.com/ssharmon. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.