SACRAMENTO -- As Gov. Jerry Brown continued to negotiate with Republican legislators on his plan to extend taxes, he also has begun to weigh going it alone, sources said Tuesday.
That could take two paths -- forcing a special election onto the ballot through a majority vote in the Legislature, or going forward with an initiative campaign for November. The more likely route, sources said, would be with a November election rather than risking legal challenges to muscling it through on a majority vote.
Brown is seriously considering a November initiative campaign, two Republicans speaking on background said they've been told.
The political directors for a number of labor groups will likely discuss an initiative campaign for November in a meeting Wednesday, though they have not heard definitively from the governor's office that is his plan, said Steve Smith communications director for the California Labor Federation.
"We've heard that rumor as well," Smith said. "Brown has done a tremendous job trying to negotiate with Republicans and they've just been unwilling to bend at all in their inflexible demands. There's only so much anyone can do in that situation. Republicans are shooting for the sky and there's no middle ground."
Monday night, Brown told a labor group that one way or another voters would get a chance to decide whether the state's $26.6. billion deficit should be eliminated strictly through spending cuts or through a mix of cuts and a continuation of the 2009 tax increases on sales, income and vehicles.
The governor's office insisted Brown remains in the hunt for Republican votes. He needs two Republicans in the Assembly and two in the Senate to get a two-thirds vote required to qualify a tax measure for the ballot.
The governor "still has an open-door policy," said Gil Duran, Brown's spokesman. "He's still trying to make some headway, get down to brass tacks.
"Obviously, people are speculating about Plan B, but the governor is focused on Plan A," Duran said. "There is no decision made to do something else at this point."
But those votes have been elusive and chances of getting a tax extension through the Legislature appear to be dimming. Republicans say they don't believe Democrats are willing to move on concessions in pensions, business regulations or spending curbs.
"Movement has always been on the Republicans side," said Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, the Senate GOP's lead budget negotiator. "Any further movement has to come from the other side, and we've seen zero."
Huff was among a group of five senators who met Monday with Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. He and Senate GOP Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, joined three members of the so-called GOP 5 -- Sens. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach, Bill Emmerson, R-Hemet, and Tom Berryhill, R-Stockton -- to try to restart talks that stalled last week.
Sens. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and Sam Blakeslee, the other two members of the GOP 5, did not attend the meeting. Blakeslee has been the most vocal of the group in criticizing Brown for not coming around to their demands, complaining that Brown hadn't returned his call for more than a week.
Besides the political difficulties of getting enough Republican votes, Brown has a calendar problem. To qualify a measure for the ballot, the Legislature must approve it 131 days before the election, a date that has long since passed.
A critical deadline -- needing 88 days before the election to print ballots and get ballot language approved by the attorney general's office -- passed two weeks ago, Brown's original deadline for an agreement.
"Any time you go under 88 days there's a great risk to disenfranchising voters," said Shannan Velayas, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State.
It is unclear what the Legislature would do to close the deficit without revenues to cover the $86 billion general fund budget until after a November election. Some observers have said it could approve an all-cuts budget and seek to restore the funding after an election. Others say the government can bridge the next five months of the new fiscal year on the cuts the Legislature has already made.
The state would also lose out on current levels of sales taxes and vehicle license fees, which lapse on July 1.
More problematic politically, Brown would have to go up against the charge that he's raising taxes rather than merely extending them.