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Assembly Speaker John Perez scrambling to cut a deal

August 31, 2012 | 12:00 pm

Assembly Speaker John Perez is in a tough spot.

Signature legislation he drafted and has put the full force of the speaker’s office behind is in peril with only hours before the Legislature adjourns for the year. The measure, AB 1500, would create new university scholarships for middle-class Californians by closing what the speaker says is a corporate tax loophole.

The speaker’s problem: The measure requires at least a few GOP votes, and he hasn’t been able to secure enough of them.

Now the lobbyists and staffers swarming the Capitol corridors amid the final frenzy of legislative activity this year are abuzz with rumors about how far the speaker will go to seal a deal. Perez isn’t talking, but several sources close to negotiations say talks in the speaker’s office have veered into revising the bill to protect tobacco giant Altria from the tax hikes it would otherwise face if the “loophole” at issue were to be closed.

It is a potentially politically perilous path for the speaker to take. Rushing a measure that carves out a big favor for a tobacco company to the governor’s desk without the usual hearings or staff vetting process is unlikely to boost Sacramento’s approval ratings.

But the alternative for Perez, whose office declared in a press release Friday to be “continuing his ascent as a rising political star” is also grim. The scholarship legislation could be key to building his legacy. If it flops, it would be the second year in a row the speaker has faced such a setback.

Last year, he focused his big legislative push on disbanding the small industrial city of Vernon, which the speaker said was awash in corruption. The measure died in the Senate.


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-- Evan Halper and Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento