Team Meg Doubles Down on Brown and Taxes

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Getty/Justin Sullivan

Twelve days before election day and less than twelve hours after a statewide poll showed their candidate trailing, the campaign of Meg Whitman has launched another attack on Jerry Brown on the issue of taxes -- claiming he'll raise $1100 in taxes per each California family.

It's a bold claim that relies not so much on what Brown has said... but rather on what he hasn't said.

Today's accusation is based entirely on the 2009 special election ballot measure -- rejected by voters -- that would have both changed the state budget process and raised taxes.

Proposition 1A was a measure crafted during the worst of the state's 2008-09 budget woes. It was also a measure that had the support of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

On April 14, 2009, Jerry Brown endorsed Prop 1A at a Bay Area event, standing next to Schwarzenegger and a couple of police chiefs.

"It's not perfect," Brown said that day in reference to the joined-at-the-hip duo of Proposition 1A and Proposition 1B. "But I guarantee you, unless we vote yes, the problems get bigger. And with the yes vote they get more manageable and more solvable."

At this point, it should also be noted that while Prop 1A earned the ire of both anti-tax fighters and some in organized labor, the campaign in support included a relatively wide array of groups and individuals... some of which have now endorsed Whitman, including the California Chamber of Commerce and Sacramento Sheriff John McGinness.

The Whitman campaign is taking Brown's endorsement of Prop 1A and attaching it to his vagueness on exactly how he would erase next year's projected budget deficit. Their PR effort seems to hinge on Brown's recent suggestion of a special election in 2011 related to budget measures, and his often stated pledge to only raise taxes if the voters approve.

"Any amount of hard scrutiny put to his vague budget plan would conclude that he and the Democrat-controlled legislature will put Prop. 1A, Version 2.0 on the ballot," writes Whitman policy guru Richard Costigan in a memo (PDF) emailed to reporters this afternoon. (Costigan is a former top adviser to Schwarzenegger.)

The campaign's 'Brown = $1100 more in taxes per family' argument comes directly from Prop 1A's temporary increases in sales, income, and car taxes. Brown has "refused to rule out his intention to go to the ballot with a new tax increase to close the projected budget shortfall," says the memo.

Less than an hour later, the campaign's charge was repeated in a press release from the state executive director of the National Federation for Independent Business. "Small businesses cannot afford another four years with Jerry Brown as governor," said the statement from John Kabateck, who also used the $1100 figure.

If that wasn't enough, the Whitman camp says because the Democratic nominee hasn't said he opposes Proposition 21 (vehicle fee for state park funding) and Proposition 24 (cancels business tax breaks), then he must support them.

We can probably put everyone's mind at ease about the last one, Prop 24; yesterday's statewide poll finds only 31% of those surveyed saying they support the measure.

As the TV informercials say... but wait, there's more.

This afternoon, the GOP nominee's campaign posted this clip of Brown speaking to supporters earlier in the day at a rally in San Diego.

"There is no clearer indication that Jerry Brown has no plan to create jobs than his concession today that California’s recession will continue for years to come," said Whitman spokesperson Andrea Jones Rivera in an email to reporters.

Is "a couple years" really equivalent to "years to come?"

The email went on to say that an improvement in the economy will not, alone, solve the state's budget woes. And it quoted economist Steve Levy of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy as an "expert."

But Levy isn't an expert in Whitman's corner when it comes to the centerpiece of her platform -- her plan for creating jobs through a number of changes that include eliminating the state's capital gains taxes. I spoke to him this morning as part of my research for this week's Campaign Check radio segment on the candidates' job proposals. (Much more on the jobs issue, and the pitches from both candidates, tomorrow.)

Levy called Whitman's plan for two million new jobs in four years "beyond plausibility."

The bottom line with these new charges against Brown is that the Democratic candidate's carefully constructed non-position positions on several issues leaves him open to all sorts of accusations. And the voters would no doubt be better informed if he put a little more detail on his budget plans, beyond his campaign white paper (PDF) that emphasizes a new approach to negotiating with legislators.

But Whitman's newest line of attack requires a leap of faith that ignores not only the past positions of some of the same people and groups she now touts as supporters... but also some experts who have a beef with her own plan to fix California's economy.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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