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March 1, 2011 > Business group backs Calif. governor's budget plan

Business group backs Calif. governor's budget plan

By Michael R. Blood, AP Political Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP), Feb 25 - Business leaders on Friday announced they would lobby legislators to support Gov. Jerry Brown's $27 billion budget fix, giving the Democratic governor an influential partner as he races to secure Republican support in Sacramento.

The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce did not deliver an enthusiastic blessing for the billions of dollars in borrowing, tax extensions and spending cuts Brown has proposed to fill the massive gap. Instead, leaders described the blueprint as a responsible, if not wholly palatable, answer to the financial crisis that threatens to cripple the nation's most populous state.

The group favored spending cuts alone but concluded such sweeping reductions would gut education, building and social programs.

Brown's plan ``is the right course of action,'' said Joseph Czyzyk, who chairs the chamber's board of directors. ``It is painful. It impacts all of us. But it's absolutely necessary.''

With the influential Southern California chamber behind him, Brown has increased leverage as he tries to sell lawmakers, particularly Republicans, on a June special election that would allow voters to decide on a five-year extension of temporary sales, income and vehicle tax increases.

The newly installed governor has set a March 10 deadline for the Democratic-controlled Legislature to pass a budget that also would authorize the June election. He needs to enlist at least a few GOP lawmakers to get the plan before voters.

His job became more difficult Thursday, when Republicans in Sacramento signaled they would press for deeper spending cuts.

``There are some no, no, no folks in the Republican Party,'' Brown conceded. But others are willing to talk and ``we are waiting to hear from them.''

To close the state's projected $26.6 billion budget deficit over the next year and a half, Brown has proposed about $12.5 billion in spending cuts and borrowing. The tax plan, if it reaches the ballot, would help raise roughly $12 billion through tax and fee increases.

The Los Angeles chamber has been pushing for the state to address its deeply troubled pension system and rewrite dense layers of state regulations, particularly with the environment. But Brown said he didn't make any trades to win the group's endorsement.

``This is not... an exchange of vows, promises or pledges,'' Brown said at a news conference at the chamber's downtown headquarters. But ``as a business group they want to see further progress on pension reform and (state) regulations.''

Chamber President Gary Toebben said the business group will work to win over balky legislators who have cringed as the prospect of higher taxes, as well as other business groups. Brown has yet to win over the state Chamber of Commerce, a powerful force with Republicans in Sacramento.

California has been staggered by double-digit unemployment and an unsteady recovery from the national recession. California's unemployment rate ticked up by 0.1 percentage point in December, to 12.5 percent. The number of jobless Californians rose to nearly 2.27 million, an increase of 3,000 from November.

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