Legislative Democrats kept their budget train rolling down the track on Tuesday, even as Governor Jerry Brown issued a statement that casts some serious doubt on whether he'll ultimately jump on board with their alternative solutions.
Meantime, the clock continues to tick towards Friday midnight, after which legislators forfeit their salaries unless they send a spending plan to Brown.
Negotiations between legislative leaders and the governor were hard to measure for most of Tuesday, especially after a morning meeting after which Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg reportedly said, "the governor needs to decide what political frame he wants to go forward with."
And Brown himself hinted that the spending plan Democrats are crafting could fail to pass muster.
"The legislature has agreed to some tough cuts," said the governor in a late afternoon statement, "but the budget before the committees today is not structurally balanced and puts us into a hole in succeeding years."
Brown then went on to single out the disagreement over cuts to the state's welfare assistance program as key to long-term fiscal balance. And he ended his brief missive with this: "We're not there yet."
That runs counter to the message from legislative Democrats, as budget chairs in both houses almost simultaneously said earlier that there's "99 percent" agreement between their budget proposal and Brown's May offering.
That number, though, remains a little hard to pin down. Staffers say there's about $1 billion worth of differences, and Monday's Assembly report proposes to lower the budget's reserve by $434 million.
That leaves $566 million in differences, ones for which few details have been released; Assembly Budget Chair Bob Blumenfield, D-Van Nuys, said Tuesday that Capitol reporters have an "obsession" with getting those details.
Republicans were happy to offer their own jabs on the clamor of questions about those details.
"This whole process is a mess," said state Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Redlands.
The actual budget that legislative Democrats intend to send to Gov. Brown will apparently travel first through the state Senate, as Assembly budgeteers were told Tuesday that their hearing was only for informational purposes. And that's noteworthy, as it was the Senate leader's staff on Monday that cautioned the proposal is still very much a work in progress.
Meantime, ten people protesting Brown's proposed cuts to the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program were arrested outside his office Tuesday afternoon. A much larger IHSS protest is being promised for Wednesday, even though legislative Democrats have already rejected the governor's cut to in-home care.
But back to the idea of a "political frame" -- the idea that there's a major political calculation involved in agreeing to a final budget deal -- both the governor and his fellow Democrats are keenly aware of the stakes involved.
Not only does a budget provide an annual glimpse of Capitol political power, but everyone this year is fixated on how the budget affects the political challenge of November's almost $9 billion tax increase initiative. That includes how the voters perceive the need for new taxes... and how the budget choices made are perceived by various Democratic allies, especially those whose financial help Brown will need in the intense campaign to come.
For now, the governor is sticking to his original plan. And where legislative leaders had earlier said the next move was Brown's, perhaps now he's pushed the ball back into their court.
Note: this story was modified at 6:45 p.m. to include Governor Brown's written statement.