Brown Appears Unsuccessful at Blocking Other Tax Measures

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Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative may not be the only one on the ballot. (Photo: Getty/Justin Sullivan)

Somewhere out there is a crystal ball that can tell us whether multiple tax increase initiatives on the November ballot means voters will reject all of them en masse.

But until that clairvoyant device shows up, we're left to wonder about the answer. And for Governor Jerry Brown, there's not much success these days in convincing others that it's a recipe for disaster.

My story from Tuesday morning's edition of The California Report is below:

A serendipitous turn of the news cycle led backers of the two most prominent measures outside of Brown's tax plan to both be in the spotlight on Monday. Backers of the "millionaires tax" proposal announced the formal kickoff of their signature gathering campaign, while attorney Molly Munger wooed a Sacramento gathering of school parents and teachers on her broad-based tax hike earmarked for schools.

While the two proposals are demonstrably different, their message to the outside world (and, in a way, to the governor) were the same: there's plenty of room on the ballot, and we're not going away.

In purely structural terms, the edge would seem to go to Munger... even though her initiative hasn't yet received formal title and summary. That's because, unlike the labor and liberal activist coalition behind the millionaire's tax, Munger can rely on her personal fortune -- not individual donors -- to get on the ballot.

And when I asked the question directly, she admitted that's what she's prepared to do.

"We're going to get this on the ballot," said Munger. "And we're going to win, too."

Molly Munger is the author of a proposed tax increase on almost all Californians, with the money earmarked for local K-12 schools. (Photo: Nicole Nguyen/KQED)

But public and private surveys seem to suggest that the union-backed initiative starts out with the pole position. While Munger's plan (which expires after 12 years) creates pretty strict controls about the use of the tax revenues for K-12 education on a school by school basis, it's an increase in income taxes on both the middle class and the wealthy.

Backers of the millionaires tax argue theirs offers more appeal.

"We like ours because it is simple and straightforward," said initiative backer Anthony Thigpenn in a conference call with reporters. "It doesn't put additional burden on those people hurting from the economic crisis and can't afford to pay more."

Thigpenn and Munger also disputed the suggestion that multiple tax hike proposals on the ballot spell collective doom for them all. The millionaire's tax group, in particular, believes past same-subject fights disprove the theory.

Perhaps. But none of those anecdotes are from tax increase initiatives, and so we're left to wonder whether the trend would hold.

Governor Brown has made it pretty clear he believes it wouldn't.

"One of the things about elections: you want 'em simple," Brown said in a December chat with Capitol reporters. "Complexity... gives fodder to the opposition."

The governor's top political consiglieri, Steve Glazer, took to Twitter after the back-to-back Monday events repeating that position. "Stating the obvious," he tweeted. "Competing state tax measures could mean all lose -- that means kids lose," referring to both the tax revenues in all measures earmarked for schools... and perhaps, the notion that Brown's tax could be attached to a series of deep K-12 cuts should voters reject it.

But neither group says Brown has specifically asked them to stand down. The millionaires tax coalition leaders say that they met with the Guv in late December, but didn't hear those magic words. Munger told reporters she's never met with the Guv, though hedged on whether she'd been asked to halt her campaign by First Lady Anne Gust Brown.

Meantime, the governor's fundraising effort continues to pick up steam and -- at this rate -- all three measures could be on the streets gathering signatures by the end of the month.

And just to add another variable to an already tangled issue: the interaction between all three tax raising measures may not end on election day. The tax-the-rich initiative's backers say a court may have to resolve whose tax trumps, should voters approve both theirs and the one from Brown. Meantime, Molly Munger told reporters that a legal opinion says if her tax initiative and Brown's both win on election day, only the governor's state/local realignment language would be enacted... while all of his tax increases would be squashed.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new 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. In 2014, he was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • 49er

    u wanna rase taxes your fired

  • NathanJames

     Put all them tax increase proposals on the ballot & let US THE VOTERS DECIDE!!!  Don’t try to FOOL OR CIRCUMVENT THE VOTERS!!

  • Speech85

    I take it you will be voting to cut police, fire and school then?  Because, at the end of the day, there are only two ways to balance any budget: make cuts or get more revenue.  The less you do of one, the more you have to do of another.  And generally people cut the stuff they don’t consider essential.  So, in my own household, we cut out magazine subscriptions for example.  With the State budget we’re down to schools and public safety.  Either you feel those two items are on par with the magazine subscriptions (i.e., they can be cut) or you raise revenue and yes, that does mean taxes.  It’s a choice.  And you get to make it.

  • Speech85

    That’s what’s happening and what John’s column is about….