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Jerry Brown Abandons Ballot Initiative

There isn't enough time to launch a signature-gathering drive for a November election.

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When Jerry Brown declared last week that he had ended budget talks with Republicans and there would be no special election in June, some political observers thought the governor would launch an initiative drive for a November ballot measure. But the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Monday that Brown apparently has already abandoned that plan because there isn't enough time to gather petition signatures. Instead, Brown reportedly plans to move forward with more draconian cuts to close the state's $15 billion deficit — that's on top of the $11 billion that the legislature slashed from the budget last month.

Brown believes that once Republicans see the magnitude of the additional cuts, some of them will fold and agree to put his tax measures before voters — without having to go through the time-consuming initiative process. It's a high-stakes gamble, but Brown hopes to increase his odds with some old-fashioned arm-twisting. He plans to campaign for his proposal in Republican districts, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Brown's move likely won't go over well with the GOP. But it may not matter, because his relationship with Republican leaders has eroded significantly. The two sides began bickering publicly after talks broke down, with State Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton complaining that the governor's wife, Anne Gust Brown, had screamed at him during negotiations, the Contra Costa Times reported. Brown's spokesman Gil Duran did not deny that Gust Brown yelled at the GOP leader, but instead offered this scathing retort: "Bob Dutton is becoming increasingly erratic and irrelevant. Next thing you know, he'll be saying Sutter (Brown's pet dog) barked at him. He seems on the sensitive side."

Brown then released his plan for public-employee pension reform that he proposed during budget negotiations. It proposed to end so-called "pension spiking," in which workers get big compensation boosts in their last year of service to substantially raise their retirement benefits. Brown's plan also would require public employees to pay the costs of their own pension benefits. Organized labor immediately denounced the proposal as an end-run around collective bargaining, while Republicans contended that it didn't go far enough.

Some labor unions, meanwhile, are now pushing for a tax hike on the rich in the wake of a new poll. The poll, commissioned by a state teacher's union, found that a whopping 78 percent of likely California voters support an income tax increase of 1 percent on residents who make more than $500,000 a year — easily eclipsing the two-thirds vote of the electorate needed to pass. Support for such a measure, which has not been considered by Brown or state lawmakers, also crosses party lines.

Finally, Brown's decision to call off budget talks also means that redevelopment agencies are safe — at least for now. Brown needs Republican votes to kill redevelopment and for his proposal to eliminate tax enterprise zones.

Quan's Budget

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, meanwhile, released a list of options last week to close the city's $46 million budget hole. But she was immediately criticized for not identifying her preferred cuts and for requesting input from city council members before issuing her final budget proposal. The city firefighter's union, Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, and the Oakland Tribune editorial board chastised Quan, saying that she was not showing leadership and was passing off tough decisions.

In response, Quan told the Express that she views the budget process as collaborative, and that she will make her final line-by-line recommendations after getting input from the council. She argued that simply submitting a plan without first asking for the council's opinions could have turned out to be a waste of time, because under city law the council will ultimately decide what cuts to make. She noted that in past years, the council simply ignored many of Mayor Ron Dellums' budget proposals and enacted its own.

There is little doubt, however, that Quan is guilty of over-optimism. She had hoped to hire a new city administrator sooner and promised to submit a detailed budget proposal by the end of March. "I didn't realize it was going to take so long," she said. "I thought I was going to hire a new city administrator weeks ago, but I didn't. I also didn't expect to spend so much time fighting to save redevelopment."

In truth, Quan's final budget proposal will depend greatly on several factors. The state budget, for example, remains a work in progress and may not be finalized for some time, which means that the future of redevelopment — which could significantly impact Oakland's finances — is unknown. In addition, Quan has embarked on negotiations with city unions, including police, and any concessions she obtains will significantly impact the bottom line. In other words, it could take a while before the new mayor will have a true budget plan in place.

Three-Dot Roundup

The Alameda City Council tentatively selected Oakland City Attorney John Russo to be its new city manager, but as of Monday the deal had not yet been finalized. ... One of Russo's top deputies, Barbara Parker, and Oakland Councilwoman Jane Brunner are believed to be the two leading candidates to replace him. ... Novella Carpenter, an author and urban farmer in West Oakland, shut down her farm stand after a city inspector threatened to fine her for failing to obtain the proper permits. ... The Koch brothers, billionaire oil executives who fund conservative causes, are financing a UC Berkeley climate study led by a climate-change critic, Cal physics professor Richard Muller. ... And Southwest Airlines grounded part of its fleet after a five-foot piece of fuselage tore off in the middle of a flight to Sacramento.

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