SACRAMENTO -- If early Republican opposition holds, Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders may ultimately have to force a ballot measure seeking to extend temporary taxes without GOP support.

It's not an option that Democrats are publicly promoting, but privately they are preparing for a worst-case scenario of going it alone in June.

When asked during his budget unveiling whether he could push his tax plan through the Legislature on a simple majority vote rather than the two-thirds vote typically required of a ballot measure, Brown said, "I'm not going to offer that opinion today. It'll be much better if this is a bipartisan effort."

"If we don't get them, we'll deal with that when it happens," he said. "I'll work hard to get a two-thirds vote."

Brown met with all four caucuses -- Republicans and Democrats in both the Assembly and Senate -- Tuesday in his continuing effort to draw the politicians out of their ideological corners, as he has put it. But Republicans are adamant in their opposition to placing the question of a tax extension before the voters, let alone be seen as supporting it.

Senate GOP Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, said Monday the plan had "zero" support in his caucus.

Taking the plan to voters without some Republican votes could complicate an already steep climb for Brown.

Voters have rejected recent attempts at tax hikes as they continue to weather a rough economy, and they've often perceived as partisan power plays ballot measures that are pushed by one party over the objection of the other.


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"Passing a ballot initiative like this one is a huge challenge even under the best circumstances," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. "By putting it on a ballot without any bipartisan support would make it a lot harder to reach out to a broader electorate in June."

Democrats are just short of two-thirds majorities in both chambers -- 24 of the 38 in the Senate (with two vacancies), and 52 of the 79 in the Assembly (with one vacancy).

A Democrat close to the administration said "bipartisanship enhances our coalition," but not having GOP support "doesn't stop it."

There are "differing views on how it would get settled" if Republicans refuse to go along, the Democrat said.

It's clear that a two-thirds vote of the Legislature is required to put a legislative measure on the ballot for the first time, said Floyd Feeney, a law professor at UC Davis' King School of Law.

But, "existing initiatives that are statutes, there's no question in my mind, can be amended by a majority vote," Feeney said.

Since the taxes are on the books, an extension has a lower threshold than a new initiative, Feeney said.

Republicans said they would block any attempt to go around them.

"There will be litigation, I'm quite sure," said Assembly budget vice chairman Jim Nielsen, R-Redding. "And I believe the two-thirds requirement will prevail."

Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, hinted he would rather not go around Republicans but will do exactly that if they don't cooperate.

"Our chances of succeeding at the ballot depends, in part, on coming together as Democrats and Republicans," he said. "It's very, very important that we do this on a two-thirds basis. At the same time, if we don't have partners -- which I'm not assuming -- we'll look at any and every way we have at our disposal to help save California.

"We will not shy away from doing what has to be done to get this crisis behind us," Steinberg said.

When asked whether he has met with legal advisers on the majority vote option, Steinberg joked, "I think I'm going to invoke attorney-client privilege.

"I'm not going to talk about our potential legal strategies," Steinberg added. "But, of course, we'll be prepared for everything. But we don't approach it that way. We approach this with the full expectation that the negotiations will be different than prior years."

Brown's $84.6 billion general fund budget is predicated on voters approving a five-year extension on auto, sales and personal income taxes. The added $12 billion in revenues would be paired with $12 billion in program cuts and $2 billion in other solutions to fill a $25.4 billion shortfall.

His appeal to bipartisanship has been an attempt to soften the partisan edge of the Capitol, and his meetings with the GOP caucuses Tuesday afternoon seemed to have an effect on some.

Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Riverside, told his Twitter fans about having "just met w/Gov. Brown. Reaffirmed need to work on cutting regulations, work w/ counties on realignment, & seek bipartisan budget solutions." Sen. Bob Huff, R-Glendora, tweeted: "Having candid discussion regarding budget with Gov. Brown in Senate Caucus."

Brown didn't appear to be going around to the Republicans -- just yet.

Contact Steven Harmon at 916-441-2101.