Huff, ‘trying to be relevant’, seeks to keep lines open with Brown

One of the 12 Republican legislators who refused to join the Taxpayer Caucus said he did so because he wants to keep his options open in negotiating a deal with Gov. Jerry Brown.

Sen. Bob Huff, R-Glendora, who is No. 2 on the Senate GOP leadership team as the caucus chairman, appears to be working out a narrative for Republicans considering a vote that would send tax extensions onto the ballot in exchange for reforms.

“I don’t think it would be because they plan to go up on taxes,” he told me. “That’s how it may be portrayed. But it’s just trying to be relevant and fix the problem so that we don’t have to keep going back to voters to raise taxes again.”

Huff was one of a handful of Republicans who voted in 2009 to place a two-year tax extension on the ballot. A recall effort was mounted against him but quickly dissolved before signatures could even begin to be gathered. He’s up for re-election in 2012, and has said he knows whatever opponent he’ll have will bring up the recall and his vote on tax extensions.

Huff has been a particular target of the conservative KFI radio talk show hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou for refusing to join the taxpayer caucus.

But Huff said the opportunity to win important and significant reforms in regulations and pensions may be worth the risk of going against the GOP grain on taxes.

He said he didn’t sign onto the Taxpayer Caucus, which has vowed to oppose Brown’s tax extension proposal, for a couple reasons.

“One, I’ve taken the (no-taxes) pledge, so how many times do you have to keep signing the same thing?

“And second, I’m hoping to negotiate something. I want to get at reforms that change the way the state operates.

“If you’re going to get at the problem, which is some of the regulations, pensions, you’re taking yourself off the negotiating table if you say we won’t” talk about tax extensions.

The Taxpayer Caucus, comprised of 30 of the 42 sitting GOP legislators, has “divided the caucus,” Huff said.

“It’s putting some of our members in a no-win situation,” Huff said, referring to the two senators who have not signed a no-tax pledge, Sens. Sam Blakeslee. R-San Luis Obispo, and Anthony Cannella R-Ceres.

Brown has a week to work out a budget agreement if he is to get his proposal to send a tax extension question to voters in a June special election.

Brown is seeking to close a $26.6 billion deficit by calling for $12 billion in spending reductions and asking voters to extend the current level of taxes on purchases, income and autos for another five years.

It takes a two-thirds vote to put the extension on the ballot, so he needs two Republicans in each legislative chamber to approve it.

Since introducing his plan nearly two months ago, Brown has been wooing legislators with an intensely inside game of private meetings. He has declined to identify the Republicans he’s met with. But a key clue emerged when the Taxpayer Caucus was formed, showing a dozen Republicans hadn’t joined.

GOP Senate Leader Bob Dutton, Rancho Cucamonga, was one of the prominent names not listed in the caucus, though he has indicated he is not willing to go along with a tax extension. He said this week he is aware that other members may be talking with Brown but hasn’t been told whether they’re negotiating to put the tax extension on the ballot.

Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, R-Visalia, has also notably kept her distance from the caucus. All year, she has said that her members are not interested in a deal for tax extensions, but has invariably kept her options open with the artful use of the phrase, “at this time.”

Others who are not a part of the Taxpayer Caucus: Sens. Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, Bill Emmerson, R-Rancho Cucamonga, Tom Harman, R-Costa Mesa, Blakeslee, Cannella; Assembly members Katcha Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, Bill Berryhill, R-Stockton, Paul Cook, R-Yucaipa, and Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto.

Steven Harmon