California Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a budget plan approved by lawmakers, saying legislators failed to take the "strong medicine" of tax increases and spending cuts needed to close the state's $10 billion deficit.
With a stroke of his pen, highlighted on a YouTube veto message, Brown said Thursday he could not endorse the budget plan sent to him even if it was passed by his fellow Democrats.
"California is facing a fiscal crisis and very strong medicine must be taken because I don't want to see more billions in borrowing legal maneuvers that are questionable and a budget that will not stand the test of time," he said.
The Democrats' proposal allotted $3 billion less in state education funding than Brown called for when he released his own revised budget plan in May. It also would have cut more than $500 million from state programs.
Brown said he would once again try to reach a compromise with Republicans over whether to extend a series of tax increases set to expire June 30.
"If they continue to obstruct a vote, we will be forced to pursue deeper and more destructive cuts to schools and public safety — a tragedy for which Republicans will bear full responsibility," the governor said in his veto message.
The governor's dismissal of the budget proposal raised serious questions as to whether a new budget could be passed by the end of the month.
Democrats criticized the governor for quashing their proposal without offering a clear path toward any resolution.
"By his veto, he prolongs the public confusion and fear that has been the shame of every budget in this state for the last 30 years," said Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon, D-Whittier.
GOP lawmakers challenged Brown's claim that the current standstill was their fault.
"In fact, it's the Democrats who are holding California hostage by refusing to allow the voters to weigh in on meaningful structural reforms — not just Gov. Brown's tax proposal," a group of four Republican senators who have been involved in budget talks with the governor said in a joint statement.
Republicans are seeking to overhaul public employee pensions, a spending cap and regulatory changes.
Brown campaigned for governor pledging not to sign a budget that relied on tricks or gimmicks. He also promised he would not raise taxes unles voters approved of the hikes.
Democrats have solid majorities in both houses of the legislature, but they can't raise taxes or put an initiative on the ballot without at least some Republican support.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Brown offered little insight into how he planned to break the long-running stalemate with the GOP.
"We need four Republican votes and in the next several days I'm going to do everything I can. I'll move heaven and earth to get those votes," he said.
Brown wants the California Legislature to extend expiring sales and vehicle tax hikes for several months. He also wants lawmakers to authorize a special election this fall in which voters would be asked to extend those increases — as well as an already-expired increase in the personal income tax rate — for up to five years.
The governor said if Republicans block a special election, he would be forced to pursue what he called "more destructive cuts" to schools and law enforcement.
"I'm certainly going to give them the chance to become heroes rather than people who become complicit in the destruction of our universities and our schools and our public safety," he said.
Jann Taber, a spokeswoman for state Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton, said Republicans have maintained all along that they will vote for a special election only if it includes a referendum to overhaul public pensions and a spending cap.
"There was no need for this mess this week, but the governor couldn't stand up to the powerful public employee unions and that's why we are in this mess right now," she said.
Democratic leaders expressed skepticism that members of their party would vote for a plan that includes deeper cuts than those already proposed. They called on Brown to start offering solutions instead of criticism.
"We are too far down the road for the governor to continue avoiding a specific proposal or specific set of proposals on what he intends to do...if he can't gain those Republican votes," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.
Brown vetoed the main budget bills, but the legislature has not yet sent him a series of trailer bills approved at the same time. Those include several measures that would likely face a legal challenge, including a $12 increase in the vehicle registration fee and a firefighting surcharge on rural residents.
In approving the budget package, Democrats in the legislature exercised their newfound ability to pass a budget plan — but not tax increases — on a simple majority vote, a power granted by voters last year.