"Whatever It Takes," Says Munger on Campaign

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Molly Munger, author of a proposed tax increase earmarked for K-12 schools. (Photo: Nicole Nguyen/KQED)

Attorney and education activist Molly Munger says she will spend as much of her personal fortune as needed to run a statewide campaign for her tax initiative to help K-12 schools.

"We are totally committed to spending whatever it takes to let the people of California know they have this opportunity this year," said Munger in an extended interview in Sacramento on Friday.

Munger later said when pressed that this could, in fact, mean her fully bankrolling a fall political campaign.

The interview was for a coming radio profile of the 63-year-old wealthy Pasadena attorney, a chat in which she talked about the roots of her passion for improving schools and why she thinks that her proposal -- a 12-year proportional income tax increase on the vast majority of the state's taxpayers -- can win.

But for the political insider world, there's likely to be some notice of Munger's newly firm promise to keep the dollars flowing beyond just the qualification stage of an initiative campaign.

The "we" in her answers, Munger said, refer to the resolve of both her and her husband, Stephen English. "We have the resources and we're going to spend them."

Just what resources she'll need to hand over is pretty hard to guess, given the increasing likelihood of multiple tax initiatives on the ballot and a very long list of other initiatives that will likely also have a spot in front of the voters. The last tax hike proposal was the failed 2009 effort by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders for a temporary tax extension to help balance the state budget. That was admittedly a very different campaign, and state records show the effort cost just shy of $16 million. Private musings by political experts seem to suggest that a 2012 tax initiative, one coming in the midst of a crowded general election campaign (2009 was a special election) could cost close to double that amount. And even then, it may not win.

In public comments last month, Munger said that the effort would not be relying only "on our own resources," but that others would be relied on, too. But on Friday, she admitted that she may end up being asked to go it virtually alone when it comes to the millions needed to run the campaign ahead.

Asked why so many political insiders -- from Governor Jerry Brown's inner circle to others -- thought she'd step aside and not qualify her initiative for the November ballot, Munger said she didn't know.

"I do know," she then added, "they don't know me very well."


Podcast: The Personal Touch

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Sometimes, politics isn't about the person who yells the loudest but rather the person who knows how to work behind the scenes. And the success or failure of that strategy tells you all you need to know about the biggest story, so far, of the November ballot.

This week's Capital Notes Podcast focuses on Governor Jerry Brown's ongoing effort to avoid a multi-prong tax initiative war this fall.

Anthony York of the Los Angeles Times is freshly back from tailing the Guv around the city by the Potomac, and we discuss those meetings plus Brown's recent evening applying the personal touch to the leader of one of the state's teachers unions.

We also discuss the likely addition of an initiative to repeal the death penalty to a November ballot that's starting to look ever longer.

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California's Political Purple Reign

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California's real political colors, says a new report (Graphic: PPIC)

For years, we've talked about how the national color coded shorthand for California politics is overly simplistic. Yes, the state may be "blue" in total votes cast in some races -- presidential, most notably -- but the real color palette of California is far more complicated.

Which is where a new academic study comes in, one that shows just how politically complicated we Californians really are.
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The Great Capitol Capital Gains Debate

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How much money will come from the richest Californians?

For years, we've all talked about how dependent California government is on the taxes paid by the state's most wealthy. Those dollars, often coming from their investments, can fluctuate from changes in the economy or tax policy.

But this year, the discussion in Sacramento may be almost exclusively about rich Californians -- specifically, how many of their tax dollars can lawmakers reasonably expect to collect?
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California Republicans Try Balancing Act. Again.

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Republicans party the weekend away in Burlingame. (Photo: John Myers/KQED)

BURLINGAME-- This weekend's gathering of the California Republican Party provided another example of how hard it must be for a political party to dig itself out of a deep popularity hole, when every option comes with a downside.

Throw the party's base supporters some choice red meat... and risk that persuadable voters who tune into the media coverage recoil. But tamp down the fiery rhetoric in hopes of projecting a "kinder, gentler" image... and risk leaving the party faithful full of accusations that moderates are trying to water down the GOP brand.

'Tis a dilemma to be sure.
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Podcast: Retirement, Realignment, Republicans

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No word seems to dominate the political lexicon these days more than "optics," the acknowledgement that how something looks can sometimes be more important than what it really turns out to be.

This week's Capital Notes Podcast examines some of the optics of what could be called the three "Rs": so called "retirement security" in California, the ongoing realignment of government services, and the efforts of state Republicans to slow the shrinking of their political footprint.

Marisa Lagos of the San Francisco Chronicle and I check in on the latest moves in Sacramento by both parties to gain the upper hand in defining the pension/retirement debate; a quick check from this week's assessment of realignment; and a short things-to-watch for in the weekend GOP confab happening just outside that oh-so-friendly-to-Republicans city, San Francisco.

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Simple Tax Initiatives, Not So Simple Impacts

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A tax increase that could spark new cuts?

"We have a message that is pretty simple and pretty powerful," Molly Munger told a group of political reporters after a recent appearance in Sacramento promoting her education tax initiative.

Similar words have also been used by backers of another proposal, one to hike income taxes on millionaires.

And yet, both measures would add new layers onto an already complex system that governs state tax revenues, while possibly -- and, perhaps, surprisingly to voters -- adding as much as $2 billion to the state's projected deficit.

When it comes to taxes and budgeting, nothing is simple.
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Podcast: The Political Lull

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It seems to feel lately as though we're in between some big storms rumbling through the state political landscape in 2012 -- hence, the title of this week's Capital Notes Podcast.

Our brief -- and aurally challenged -- chat features a look at why three (or four) separate tax initiatives all now seem full steam ahead for the November ballot, and how some big legislative and congressional candidate decisions will be made in the next few weeks.

Anthony York of the Los Angeles Times and Marisa Lagos of the San Francisco Chronicle both sound fine in this short chat; your friendly radio reporter host had a non-functioning microphone and so apologies for the marginal quality every time I open my mouth to speak... (yes, insert your own joke here).

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The Costs of Brown's Pension Plan... In Money and Politics

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Brown's pension plan is the Capitol's hot potato. (Photo: Getty/Max Whittaker)

For weeks, the conventional wisdom around the Capitol has been that Governor Jerry Brown's proposal to create a hybrid pension/401(k) system for future government employees faced long odds with legislative Democrats.

Now, they've got something on which to base their opposition: a study by CalPERS that suggests such a system may not be all it's cracked up to be.

The report released late Tuesday concludes that Brown's plan (at least in as much as a work-in-progress could be analyzed) would "lower retirement benefits for new employees and shift the risk from employers to employees."
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Getting On Ballot Only Half the Battle

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Successful ballot measure campaigns in California can cost millions of dollars. (Photo: Getty/Kevork Djansezian)

As every smart politico knows, there are two distinct stages of direct democracy in California: getting your proposition on the ballot and then getting voters to actually ratify your proposition.

And so in a few cases this season, the real question may be not whether a measure qualifies for the November 6 statewide election... but rather will there'll be enough money to get it over the goal line.
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