NOTE: This posting has been modified to reflect that the proposed initiative only guarantees one-third of the oil tax revenue for higher education. The bulk of the revenues would be deposited back into the state's general fund.
And so on Tuesday, while Governor Jerry Brown was telling reporters that he hopes to clear the field of other tax initiatives aiming for the November ballot, Burton was filing a tax initiative of his own -- an oil severance tax to help fund higher education.
"I don't believe our [initiative] detracts in any way" from Brown's tax proposal, said Burton in a brief phone interview.
The idea of a tax on oil production in California isn't new. Not only has it been bandied about a lot in the last couple of years, but Burton points out that similar proposals were floated both by himself in the 1970s and by the late Gov. Pat Brown in 1959.
Burton's proposal (PDF) is pretty straightforward, and would assess a 12.5% tax per barrel of oil, with exceptions made for low-producing oil wells. But only one-third of the tax revenues would be earmarked for for higher education (including community colleges); the remainder going back in the state's general fund, which would ostensibly float all boats -- including the general fund's contribution to colleges and universities. For the money specifically earmarked, the Burton initiative would establish a new oversight committee for higher education that would have a say in doling out the revenues.
"It's a statement of what we want to do," says Burton, who admits that the "we" is pretty much -- for now -- limited to him. However, the state Democratic Party has endorsed a so-called oil severance tax.
Burton, who turns 79 tomorrow, is a cagey politician who got tongues wagging last week with his... pointed... comments in a segment on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show." He says he didn't consult with Governor Brown on the initiative, but would be happy to talk about it with his fellow Democrat.
Burton says that while his proposal -- if it moves forward -- may have to be helped along financially by some of the same political players as the Brown income/sales tax initiative, any crossover would come from donors who had the resources to contribute to both. Otherwise, Burton says, a donor will undoubtedly line up with the governor.