SACRAMENTO -- Assembly Speaker John Perez insisted Tuesday that closing the state's remaining $15 billion deficit with spending cuts is out of the question, and vowed to step up pressure on Republicans to relax their anti-tax stance.
"Talking about an all-cuts approach is in essence an exercise in futility," the Los Angeles Democrat said at a Capitol press briefing.
Perez said he will be seeking new revenues through a two-thirds vote that could be ratified by voters later -- a departure from Gov. Jerry Brown's vow to take any tax proposal to the people for a vote.
"I'm not the governor and I didn't make that promise," Perez said. "The approach the governor had was an admirable one and one we supported, giving the voters a vote by June 7. What happened was Republicans ran out the clock on that option."
A constitutionally required two-thirds vote on taxes through the Legislature would require two Republicans in the Assembly and two in the Senate -- a tough assignment, evident by Brown's inability to get those votes in seeking merely to approve a special election on tax extensions on sales, income and vehicles.
Brown is open to the possibility of going through the Legislature for taxes first, said spokesman Gil Duran, but "he is not open to any tax extension proposal that does not include a vote of the people."
Speaking to the Bay Area Council business group in San Francisco, Brown said he would continue to lobby for Republican votes in the
"If we're going to radically reduce further our investment in higher education, in kindergarten through 12 grade education, in public safety, people ought to weigh in on that," Brown said. Whether the state extends taxes or resorts to draconian cuts, "that is a big, big change in the way California is going to operate."
Brown called on business leaders to "step up to the plate" and back his plan, and he noted that Californians need to accept the pain that will come with any solution.
"If we're going to succeed, each of us has to get out of our particular comfort zone," he said. "We all have to walk a little beyond where we're standing today."
Perez said that conversations he's had with a handful of Republicans led him to believe that "there is a way for us to work between now and June 15 to negotiate out a solution that allows us to pull some Republican votes."
Late Tuesday, he sent a letter to Assembly GOP Leader Connie Conway, R-Visalia, urging her caucus to come up with its own proposal or to join Democrats in approving new revenues.
"I find it unacceptable that in place of concrete proposals, Assembly Republicans have offered partisan sound bites that do not move us forward," Perez wrote. "Therefore, I request that the Assembly Republicans end their silence on the budget and produce their comprehensive budget solution by May 1, 2011."
Conway said Republicans "will continue to stand up as the last line of defense for California taxpayers and will not back down in the face of Sacramento hyperbole."
And she welcomed Democrats into GOP districts, saying she hopes they're prepared to answer tough questions from their constituents "who don't want to pay a $55 billion tax increase to fund a 31 percent increase in state spending over three years, and don't want to see an irresponsible realignment plan adopted that will result in thousands of dangerous criminals being set free in our communities."
The constitutional deadline for the Legislature to produce a budget is June 15, though the fiscal year does not begin until July 1. Any agreement on taxes with Republicans before July 1 would mean current sales taxes and vehicle license fees would be a continuation of the 2009 temporary tax increase. Income taxes were already raised on Jan. 1, and the further lawmakers get away from an extension of current taxes, the more awkward it will get for Republicans to approve fresh taxes.
Assembly Democrats are planning to hold a series of summits around the state in Republican districts -- following in the footsteps of Brown's foray last week into two GOP senators' territory in Southern California.
A schedule will be announced in coming days, the speaker's office said.
The summits, Perez said, will make clear "that revenues are essential" to protect schools, law enforcement and local government from billions more in cuts. Legislators have approved $14 billion in solutions, including $8 billion in spending cuts to cut into what was a $26.6 billion deficit through mid-2012.
Perez blasted Republicans for largely refusing to vote for the spending cuts now enacted and for stalling negotiations for a special election in June.
"It is clear that Republican legislators have acted irresponsibly throughout this process and we need to now step up and act like responsible leaders," he said. "It is simply unacceptable that they've refused to vote for cuts, vote for revenues or for reforms. They have a responsibility to govern, not sit on their hands to prevent us from dealing with this crisis."
Perez said he intends to continue to follow the outline of the governor's plan with the same mix of taxes and over the same five-year period.
Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Los Angeles, the chairman of the budget committee, accused Republicans of operating in a fantasyland, a theme he's used since the two parties began debating on the Assembly floor last month.
"Republicans need to stop chasing unicorns," he said. "They have been chasing these mythical solutions that they say are going to solve problems, but they just don't exist. I have a 5-year old girl who believes in unicorns, and that's fine. But it's not fine for elected officials to talk about these mythical solutions and not bring them to the table."
Blumenfield was not specific, but pointed to the demands that Senate Republicans brought to Brown late in negotiations that would blow the deficit open by another $4 billion. He was referring to the GOP's demand to retain corporate tax breaks that Brown has sought to eliminate.
"We're going to go to their constituents and start talking and making sure their constituents are revved up on these issues and talk to them and engage their legislators," Blumenfield said, "so they can stop listening to talk show hosts and folks in other states about what to do."