When Governor Brown announced an end to budget negotiations with the Republicans who dared to defy their party’s mandate concerning taxes, little information was provided by either side as to the reasons for the breakdown.
Sure, there were accusations – Brown stated it was about tax breaks for corporations and a seven-page list of concessions supposedly provided by the Republicans at the last-minute. GOP Senator Bob Huff said his team was not asking for everything, but for concessions on major issues only. Brown’s willingness to accept major changes to pensions was questioned.
Unfortunately, negotiations were behind closed doors, so we can only speculate what the major sticking points were, but I imagine they were known almost all along by Brown and Huff. Therefore, the terse break-off had more to do with the clock running out for getting a measure on the June ballot. It was simply an opportunity for Brown to engage in theatrics, something he knew for weeks would happen.
Quite frankly, both sides knew from the start that the gulf would be too wide, but went through the motions for appearance sake.
The seven-page list containing fifty-three items that Brown objected to was probably a recap of many talking points, both formal and informal, over the many weeks. I really doubt there were any surprises.
The budget discussions, then, were nothing more than a warm-up for a showdown on pension reform and spending caps.
Spending caps might be the easier of the two to settle. Pension reforms might be a different matter since there may not be unanimity even among Republicans.
It is important to note that Brown did not say discussions were dead. He acknowledged that the problems accumulated over decades and would take time to resolve.
In my view, there should be no extensions without pension reform. Reforms must include a timetable for weaning employees off of defined benefit plans and significantly increasing employee contribution rates to shield the taxpayers from market risk. Much higher contributions to health plans should also be mandatory.