SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Gov. Jerry Brown urged lawmakers on Friday to "man up" and pass his proposed spending cuts, a choice of words that rankled some female lawmakers and advocates for the needy.
During an interview with San Francisco radio station KGO, Brown reiterated his hope that the Democratically controlled Legislature would approve the billions of dollars in cuts he proposed in January to help close the state's deficit, including additional rollbacks to social service programs. The Democratic governor had asked that cuts be enacted by March, but legislative leaders decided to wait until he releases his revised budget in May.
"We're trying to be as prudent as we can and that's why the Legislature has to man up, make the cuts," Brown said.
Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, was among those who bristled at the phrasing.
"'Man up' doesn't quite apply here," Evans said. "The reason it's a poor choice of words is the cuts would fall most heavily on the women and children in the state."
Not only would women bear the brunt of cuts to subsidized childcare and the welfare-to-work system, Evans said, but they also would suffer disproportionally from layoffs at public schools and homecare programs.
"Maybe it's time for the women in the Legislature to take charge of this problem, given the fact that it's mostly the women that are being impacted," she said.
Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, a Democrat from Marina del Ray, needled Brown in a statement that was filled intentionally with cliches and referred to the governor's failed attempt last year to persuade Republicans to approve temporary tax hikes.
"We need the Governor to shake off last year, dig down deep, show intestinal fortitude and not alligator arm his way across the middle to help us deliver those Republican votes," she said.
Brown's comment recalled one by former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, when he mocked lawmakers as "girlie men" during a 2004 budget standoff. Schwarzenegger's remarks temporarily soured relations with some lawmakers and with gay and lesbian groups.
Of the 120 members of the California Legislature, 33 are women, according to the California Legislative Women's Caucus.
The governor's comment also drew a response from Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, who said in a statement there was "nothing manly about approving cuts to children's health care" and other social services.
John Vigna, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, said most lawmakers were unlikely to be offended by Brown's antiquated language, given the governor's off-the-cuff speaking style.
"He's certainly known for his colorful rhetoric throughout the years," he said.
Brown warned Friday that the state budget deficit will likely exceed the $9.2 billion shortfall his administration had predicted. Later in the radio interview, he defended the state's welfare-to-work program, saying it is designed to give women the education, skills and child care they need to get decent-paying job.
Democrats reaffirmed their intention to delay the budget debate until they see the governor's revised budget. They are hoping the fiscal picture will look less dire after the state gathers income tax revenue in April.
Later Friday, the state Department of Finance said revenue for the fiscal year is running nearly $900 million below earlier forecasts.
"Our position hasn't changed," said Alicia Trost, spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. "It is important to have a clear picture of exactly what we are facing."
To avoid further cuts, Brown is seeking a November ballot proposition asking voters to approve a higher sales tax and higher income taxes on those making $250,000 a year or more. Republicans have called the initiative a jobs killer.
Brown said Friday there is little evidence that the rich flee high-tax states, and took the opportunity to rib California's neighbors. He asked if business owners would really choose cities like Las Vegas or Tucson, Ariz., over Los Angeles or his hometown of Oakland.
"Going to that desert with all those foreclosed homes, I don't know that tax break is worth it," he said.