SACRAMENTO (AP) — The president of one of California’s most influential business groups sent a signal to reluctant lawmakers Thursday — including Republicans — that the group will support them if they take a difficult vote to solve the state’s budget deficit, even if it involves asking voters to continue tax increases.
Allan Zaremberg, president and chief executive officer of the California Chamber of Commerce, told reporters that any lawmaker who votes for “a solution that is comprehensive and helps solve the budget crisis” will get the group’s support.
“There will be criticism, wherever it comes from, and I think if people address some of these issues about solving the problem once and for all, that they (will) have the support they need in their community,” Zaremberg said.
His comments came as lawmakers face a March 10 deadline imposed by Gov. Jerry Brown to reach a budget deal and place a tax measure before voters in a June special election.
Republican lawmakers continue to publicly oppose the Democratic governor’s budget proposal, which calls for a balance between spending cuts and an extension of tax increases enacted in 2009.
Brown wants voters to decide whether to continue the temporary increases in the sales, personal income and vehicle taxes for another five years. Those increases are set to expire this year. His proposal also includes about $12 billion in spending cuts to help close the state’s $26.6 billion deficit.
Zaremberg said it’s too soon for his group to take a position on the budget because the plans are still being revised in legislative committees. But he noted that the chamber supported those tax increases when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed them as part of a budget deal in 2009. They were the least harmful to the economy of several options considered at the time, Zaremberg said.
To get the taxes on the ballot with a two-thirds majority, Brown needs support from at least two Republicans in each chamber if all Democrats support the package. Some of them have balked at making deep cuts to social service programs.
Brown called the chamber’s position a positive message.
“It is apparent that momentum is now building for a bipartisan budget solution that includes spending cuts and a temporary extension of current taxes,” Brown said in a statement.
Zaremberg said it doesn’t matter whether a ballot measure is the chamber’s preferred route to solving the state’s fiscal crisis, because Brown promised to ask for voter approval for any tax increases during his campaign last year. He noted that a so-called “all cuts” budget would not win support in the Democratically controlled state Legislature.
“The governor, I believe, is following through on a commitment that helped him get elected, that resonated with voters, and I appreciate that very much. I think the public appreciates that, too,” he said.
The chamber also supported a 2009 package of ballot measures that included a tax extension, but voters rejected them.
A spokeswoman for Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, said Republicans remain opposed to the taxes.
“These same tax hikes were resoundingly defeated by voters less than two years ago. We believe that lawmakers should focus on making government operate more efficiently instead of pushing tax increases that will only fuel big government,” spokeswoman Sabrina Lockhart said.
Jann Taber, a spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, declined to comment.
Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, signaled Wednesday that he remains hopeful of reaching a deal with Republicans before Brown’s deadline.
“I’m hopeful that there are enough Republicans whose position is not so intransigent, who recognize that an all cuts budget is not realistic,” he said.
Zaremberg stopped short of saying the chamber would give financial support to lawmakers who vote for a budget deal but said repeatedly that they would have support for any plan that is comprehensive, which he defined as being bipartisan and helping solve California’s budget crisis over the long term. He said taking a tax measure to the voters that didn’t pass might do further harm to the state’s fragile economy and businesses that are looking for certainty.
“”If we’re going to do this, find a comprehensive solution that has revenues, and you go to the voters, I think the goal is you want to get it passed, you want to get it done. It doesn’t make any sense to go to the voters and not have a package that they find to be something they can support,” he said.
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