California Democrats Take Cue From Wisconsin GOP in Fight Over Budget Deal

A massive state deficit. A frustrated governor. Uncooperative lawmakers. Sound familiar?

Probably. But this battle is taking place not in Wisconsin, it's in California.

That's where Democratic lawmakers are considering using the same parliamentary tricks they claim Republicans used in Wisconsin, leveraging their majority power to cram down the minority's throat something their governor could not get at the negotiating table.

In Wisconsin, it was about collective bargaining. In California, it's about taxes.

"When you folks say no, no vote, no plan, no," Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown told Republicans. "That's not American. It's not acceptable."

"Give me a break," shot back Republican State Sen. Bob Huff. "They're taxes he's putting out there. He wants our guys to violate core principals to put this up to the people."

California needs $26 billion to balance its budget. Brown wanted roughly half in cuts, half in higher taxes. But he needed four Republican votes to put the tax hike on the ballot. After weeks of negotiation, talks broke down last week.

"Even though we came very close, there are issues that I think are impossible to resolve at this time," Brown told supporters in a You Tube video.

Republicans plan was to reduce spending and change the reward system for state employees.

They wanted:

-- a state spending cap based on population;

-- no state pension higher than the $106,000 -- something more than 500 state employees already have;

-- a 50-50 split on pension contributions from employees and employers, not the 90 percent taxpayers currently pay for most state pensions;

-- all new state employees would receive a 401K, not a state pension; and

-- an end to seniority in education.

"One of the problems is the Democrats want something right now, the Republicans want something that is going to take a number of years. And frankly there is a lot of distrust between these parties," said economist Christopher Thornberg of Beacon Economics in Los Angeles.

California public employee unions oppose the pension reforms pushed by the GOP, making the package tough politically on Brown.

"I think he can dig in. I don't think this is about power bases or money bases as much as it is about his personal preferences," Thornberg said.

So where does the state go from here?

Democrats are planning to go around minority republicans to extend the temporary tax increase for another five years without the required two-thirds vote. That will be challenged in court.

Brown is barnstorming the state this week, gathering support to put the tax increase on the ballot in November should lawmakers fail.

Meanwhile voters are getting both barrels -- as Brown and the well-funded unions paint a picture of financial Armageddon if California is forced to balance its budget on cuts alone.