ALAMEDA, Calif. — California Gov. Jerry Brown threw down a gauntlet to opponents of his budget proposal during his state of the state address Monday night, when he challenged them to craft alternative solutions for the parts they oppose.
Brown’s budget plan mixes spending cuts with extensions of temporary tax hikes that must be approved by voters.
“In all honesty, we have the right to get an alternative,” he said.
In a short speech almost entirely devoted to the budget, the Democratic governor said he has heard plenty of criticism in the three weeks since issuing his proposed budget. Its critics include opponents of planned cuts to social services, those who oppose his plan to end local redevelopment, and Republicans dead-set against a referendum on taxes.
“These same people have failed to offer even one alternative solution,” Brown said. “Let the ideas come forth, but let them measure up to the challenge before us.”
Brown’s budget proposal calls for $84.6 billion in general fund spending in fiscal year 2012, down 8.2% from about $92.2 billion in the current year.
To support even that reduced level of spending, he wants to go to the state’s voters for a five-year extension of temporary income, sales and vehicle taxes that otherwise expire at the end of June.
Such a special election would have to be approved by around the end of March to take place in time. It would require two-thirds votes in each house of the Legislature — meaning that several members of the GOP minority would have to buy in.
So far, Republicans are not budging, despite Brown’s paeans Monday night to the power of democracy and his evocation of the popular protests in Tunisia and Egypt.
“It would be unconscionable to tell the electors of this state that they have no right to decide whether it is better to extend current tax statutes another five years or chop another $12 billion out of schools, public safety, our university and our system of caring for the most vulnerable,” Brown said.
Republican Sen. Doug LaMalfa said there are areas where he agrees with Brown, such as reducing the size and scope of government, but taxes are not among them.
“I believe he fundamentally misunderstood the will of the people if he expects them to increase taxes,” LaMalfa said in a statement.
The governor is calling for the dissolution of local redevelopment agencies, which are chartered to generate economic development by using incremental property-tax revenue gains in areas they declare to be blighted.
Existing debts and contracts would be honored under Brown’s plan.
Local government interests have lined up strongly against the proposal, but Brown reaffirmed his support for the redevelopment cuts during his state of the state speech.
“It’s a matter of hard choices and I come down on the side of those who believe that core functions of government must be funded first,” he said. “Redevelopment funds come directly from local property taxes that would otherwise pay for schools and core city and county services, such as police and fire protection, and care for the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Local governments face a great deal of uncertainty, even if Brown’s budget is adopted as is, Fitch Ratings warned in a comment released Monday.
“It is far too early to predict how the Legislature or voters will act, but Fitch believes there is considerable risk that revenues will fall short of budget expectations,” the rating agency said. “A shortfall would likely have a negative effect on funding for counties and school districts.”