Analysis: Gov. Brown’s ‘Gun to the Head’ Campaign For Higher Taxes

Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown hopscotched around the state, making sure at each stop to make a pitch for Proposition 30 and threatening multibillion dollar cuts to education if voters don’t approve the initiative’s temporary taxes this November. I interviewed longtime state-government observer John Myers, political editor at KXTV in Sacramento, about Brown’s campaign.

Edited transcript:

RACHAEL MYROW: You recently blogged that the governor’s campaign reminds you of the infamous January 1973 cover of National Lampoon: “If you don’t buy this magazine, we’ll kill this dog.”

JOHN MYERS: Yeah, and I also wrote that it may be a little over the top to make the comparison. But the point is that when you look at the way the governor has rolled out this campaign in the early stages — and he’s now had an event in Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco — it’s very much a campaign geared towards what happens if Proposition 30 fails. He hasn’t talked a lot about all the great things that will happen if it passes. And that’s typically what you have in a ballot measure campaign. People say “Vote for us, because great things will happen.” This has been a campaign of saying, “If you don’t vote for us, doomsday comes.” And doomsday in this case, is the $5 billion to $6 billion in automatic spending cuts to schools that were written into the state budget if Prop 30 fails. That’s a very different kind of political campaign.

MYROW: This week USC released a poll that offers a couple of interesting insights. First, and this is probably the part Gov. Brown likes, a majority of those polled would vote for Proposition 30.

MYERS: They would. If you look at this poll, and if you look at all of the polls that we’ve seen in the last few weeks, the governor’s measure, which, again, would temporarily raise income taxes on the wealthiest and sales taxes on everyone, it has always polled in the low 50s, which of course is a majority of those being polled. But historically in California, if you’ve got a measure that polls below the 60 percent threshold in the early going, they don’t fare too well on election day, and so this is actually a low number.

MYROW: I was quite taken by another interesting tidbit from this poll: people ranked school funding fifth as a spending priority. This is after the economy, after jobs, after the state budget deficit and wasteful government spending.

Historically in California, if you’ve got a measure that polls below the 60 percent threshold in the early going, they don’t fare too well on election day.

MYERS: Yeah, it’s interesting, one of the folks from USC who were talking to reporters about this poll made the comment that they really feel as though voters are in a triage mode. The economy has been tough, unemployment has remained high, and voters’ historic priorities about spending and government may be shifting somewhat, or at least temporarily shifting. And clearly there’s an issue of wasteful government spending — they asked these folks in this poll about things like high-speed rail, the ongoing controversy about the hidden money in the state parks bank accounts, and the governor has tried to insist that these things have nothing to do with Proposition 30. But this poll does raise some questions about whether voters feel as though government is mismanaging the money it has, and maybe they don’t want to give any more money to government.

MYROW: This week the governor argued a state as big as California should be able to pursue more than one funding priority at the same time. “We have to be able to jump rope, chew gum and do five other things. Otherwise, we’re not going to make it,” Brown said.

Audio: Jerry Brown defends Prop 30 in a minute-and-a-half flat

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Now it appears that he sees himself in a fight to the political death with Pasadena attorney Molly Munger, who has spent millions pushing Proposition 38, which would raise taxes to fund K-12 and makes a point of saying, “This money doesn’t go to Sacramento. It goes to your local schools.” But I wonder, is this really an either-or situation, the way the governor seems to be presenting it. Why not presume voters could approve both propositions?

MYERS: People who I’ve talked to, election law experts, say, “Yes, the voters can approve both of these measures.” But, whichever one would get the most “yes” votes would probably be the only one that would go into effect. And, if in fact, Ms. Munger — the wealthy civil rights attorney — her measure went into effect, with tax revenues only for schools, then those schools could still suffer a $5 billion to $6 billion automatic trigger cut, because that’s what was drawn out in the budget if Prop. 30 fails. So, there’s a legal problem there.

But but there’s a political argument, too, that’s difficult. Which [is] if you’re the governor, are you telling people to vote for both? They don’t like taxes, but hey, here’s double taxes, in a way. And we should point out the polling is that Prop. 38, this Munger K-12 tax measure, does not have majority support in any poll I’ve seen. It is below the 50 percent threshold, and at this point it could just be a political argument. The voters really may not say ‘yes’ to that.

Soda Industry Outspends Beverage Tax Supporters 10-1 in Richmond

by William Harless, California Watch

Groups aligned with the soda industry already have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars as Richmond prepares to vote on raising taxes on sweetened drinks an extra penny an ounce. Since the spring, tax opponents have outspent supporters almost 10 to 1, new financial records show.

A group backed by the American Beverage Association sent this mailer to Richmond voters. (Barnes Mosher Whitehurst Lauter & Partners)

The American Beverage Association, a Washington, D.C., trade organization that represents PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and other major beverage companies, has spent $150,000 to fight the soda tax measure since June, according to recently released campaign finance disclosures.

The Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes, the beverage association-backed organization created to defeat the tax, spent an additional $200,000, according to campaign finance records. The money is going largely to political consulting, attorney, and polling and research firms. Almost $60,000 was earmarked for outdoor advertising.

Meanwhile, another organization has entered the fray to support the tax. The California Center for Public Health Advocacy, a nonprofit group with offices in Oakland, Davis and Los Angeles, has spent about $21,600 on polling and focus groups.

Richmond City Council Member Jeff Ritterman, a cardiologist who is leading the campaign for the sweetened-beverage tax, said he believes soda drinkers will start to turn to tap water, saving money and drinking something healthier. He said the American Beverage Association is worried that Richmond will set a trend.

“I think they’re quite aware that if these dominoes begin to fall, a lot more will,” he said, referring to the two California cities, Richmond and El Monte, in Los Angeles County, that are considering penny-per-ounce sweetened-beverage taxes, which would be the first of their kind in the United States.

Ritterman and a handful of Bay Area residents have raised about $10,400 for their own campaign, dubbed Richmond Fit for Life, and have sent out brochures and mailers advocating for the tax, outlining obesity statistics and describing how it and a companion health measure are phrased on the November ballot.

The Richmond City Council voted to place the soda tax on the November ballot. Ritterman estimates the measure would raise $3 million a year, which advocates want to use for obesity programs, school fruit and vegetable gardens, and playing fields. The tax would apply to soft drinks and other beverages with added sugar.

Opponents of the soda tax point out that the ballot measure does not guarantee the new money would be spent on health measures, though supporters say they have enough pledges from City Council members to ensure it would be.

“Our campaign activities are and will continue to be focused on helping voters cut through the false claims of the tax backers,” Chuck Finnie, a vice president of the San Francisco public relations firm Barnes Mosher Whitehurst Lauter & Partners, which is working on the campaign to defeat the tax, said in a statement. “They say the measure is intended to fight obesity but they know not one thin dime is being raised specifically for new public health, recreation and other anti-obesity programs.”

Both sides have sent out mailers, including one by the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes that irked soda-tax supporter Tom Butt, a Richmond City Council member. Last week, he sent a complaint to the city’s attorney claiming the mailer didn’t contain the specific disclosure, as Butt said city law requires: “Major funding from large out-of-city contributors.”

“Although the BS (Big Soda) campaign is free to use the rest of the mailer to imply that this was paid for by local interests, it is not free to do that in the part of the mailer where the disclosure is required,” Butt wrote, forwarding this complaint to his constituents in an e-mail.

The brochure does mention American Beverage Association funding at its bottom. And Finnie said the city’s requirement for disclosing out-of-city contributions applies to independent expenditure committees, not campaigns against specific ballot measures like the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes.

“It is Councilmen Butt and Ritterman who are misleading voters,” Finnie said. “They are misleading voters by failing to acknowledge the so-called soda tax is going to raise the cost of living on everyone, not just on consumers of sugar-sweetened beverages and certainly not just on soda drinkers.”

William Harless is a journalist with California Watch.

Contra Costa Voters to Weigh In on $75 Fire District Parcel Tax

C. Costa Cty Fire District

Come election day, Contra Costa voters will weigh in on a $75-a-year parcel tax, sent to them courtesy of the Contra Costa Fire Protection District. Here are some of the district’s arguments as to why they need the dough. Of note:

Without additional revenues…our reserves will be exhausted and service cuts will be inevitable… we would be forced to close an additional 6 fire stations – reducing our total stations from 28 to 22. This is a step we don’t want to take – response times would be inadequate to meet the need for quick action for life-saving emergency medical services and fires would not be staffed with enough firefighters in a timeframe experts agree is necessary to properly protect life and property.

If the measure passes by the required two-thirds vote, residents of Antioch, Clayton, Concord, Lafayette, Martinez, Pittsburg, Pleasant Hill, San Pablo and Walnut Creek, plus those from the unincorporated communities of Bay Point, Briones, Clyde, El Sobrante, North Richmond, East Richmond Heights, and Pacheco are in for seven years of payments, from Jul, 2013 to Jun, 2020.

ConFire has posted a May survey that asked respondents whether they’d pony up a tax of up to $88 for five years in order to avoid closing fire stations, ensure prompt 9-1-1 response, and make needed repairs and upgrades. Sixty-six percent responded definitely or probably yes. Of course, that’s without hearing the counter-arguments, which usually go something like, “I already pay enough in taxes.”

Here’s another argument, by Supervisor Candace Andersen, as reported by The Contra Costa Times:

[Anderson] said she could not support a parcel tax without a long-term financial plan detailing how the district would sustain itself. Andersen said fire district figures show that even if the tax passes, the district will be in the red by fiscal year 2015-16.

“I would rather, as horrible as it sounds, put no measure before voters than a flawed measure that is destined to fail,” said Andersen.

By the way, in June, a much bigger parcel tax — $197 gradually increasing to $257 over 10 years — was voted down by neighboring East Contra Costa County Fire Protection District voters, not even gaining a simple majority let alone the two-thirds needed for passage.

Arguments Take Shape in Battle Over Richmond Soda Tax

(Photo: ciukes/Flickr)

“This product is toxic.”

That’s Richmond Councilman Jeff Ritterman at a council debate in May. The product at issue is not a pesticide or even an oven cleaner; what Ritterman, the former chief of cardiology at Kaiser Medical Center in Richmond was describing is sugar, or more specifically the sugar found in sweetened beverages for sale. Ritterman is the author of the so-called Richmond “soda tax,” voted onto the November ballot by the city council  in May.

If the measure passes, a 1 cent-per-ounce fee will be imposed on all Richmond businesses “that sell any drink containing added sugars, including fruit smoothies, fountain drinks, soft drinks, sweetened teas and energy drinks,” reports the Contra Costa Times. “Markets, food stands, food trucks and restaurants would be expected to use inventory figures to calculate sales and pay the tax, according to city staff reports.” Continue reading

Field Poll: Voters Support Props 28, 29

By Ben Adler

Supporters of Proposition 29 say additional cigarette taxes help people quit. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The big battle in the June 5 primary is Proposition 29, which would raise the tobacco tax to pay for cancer research. Ads are all over the airwaves, particularly from the measure’s opponents. And the Field Poll suggests they may be having some effect: the measure holds a 50-42 percent lead among likely voters. But among Californians who plan to vote at their polling place on Election Day, it only has a five-point lead. Those are voters who have not cast their ballots yet, and the advertising could be leading to the drop in support.

The other measure is Proposition 28, which would reduce the overall number of years state lawmakers can serve, but would let them spend the entire time in either the Senate or the Assembly. That initiative holds a much wider lead, 50 percent favoring to 28 percent opposed. Nearly a quarter of those polled say they’re undecided.

State Worker Pay To Come Under Gov. Brown’s Budget Ax

Flickr/Clinton Steeds

As Gov. Jerry Brown prepares to release the “May revise” of his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year, sources in his administration are letting it be known that the governor will be asking public employees to take a hit.

Tax revenues are $3.5 billion less than expected, further widening the budget gap, and Brown needs to find the money somewhere. Here’s more from Sacramento Bee reporter Jon Ortiz:

Officials representing Gov. Jerry Brown met with state employee union leaders last week and delivered the news: A budget revision he’ll release Monday includes a new proposal to cut payroll costs in the upcoming fiscal year.

The decision to take a bite out of state workers’ pay comes amid a deepening California budget deficit that Brown pegged in January at $9.2 billion through 2012-13 but now is thought to be considerably more.

The sources, who declined to talk on the record because the administration asked all involved to keep the budget discussions secret, said Brown’s representatives didn’t outline specific cuts. They said the governor wants to cut payroll costs by at least 5 percent, and asked union leaders to come up with ways to make the reductions.

Brown has the authority to lay off workers, but any other reductions – a pay cut or furloughs, for example – require bargaining or legislation.

Read more here:


For state employees, the news is a reminder of the furloughs and layoffs of the Schwarzenegger years.

For Republicans, it suggests a ploy to win favor for the governor’s tax increase measure moving toward the November ballot.

The details will be revealed Monday when Brown unveils his budget revision plan.

Presidential Campaign Ads Fly but Californians Irked by Partisanship

We’re six months out and the 2012 presidential race is gearing up. President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney are moving into general election mode. And the Super PACs that support them — and can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money — are charging into the race.

The cash is flowing. The ads are flying. But what will voters take from it all?

The Obama campaign announced it would spend $25 million on ads just in the month of May. The first salvo is a strictly positive ad, touting the president’s hard work to dig the country out of the recession he inherited.

Meanwhile Americans For Prosperity, the conservative Super PAC, has unleashed its own anti-Obama ads, complete with allegations that American tax dollars meant for green job stimulus have been spent overseas.

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Launching New Biz in Tough ‘Hood: Is It Government’s Job?

Eskender Aseged of Radio Africa & Kitchen

What’s Government For? That’s the subtext to KQED’s election coverage this year.The question seems to be cropping up everywhere — from the Tea Party’s tax revolt to Occupy Wall Street rallying for the 99 percent. What do we want? What are we willing to pay for? When do we want government to butt out?

They’re questions that can crop up in the most unlikely of places… such as a radio story about an Ethiopian chef’s new restaurant in San Francisco’s Bayview District. Reporter Rachael Myrow describes the way the city of San Francisco helped Chef Eskender Aseged shift from hosting “pop up” food events to opening the doors of his own place, Radio Africa and Kitchen.

Among the funding sources the city used, were redevelopment funds… making this project perhaps the last of its kind, since Gov. Jerry Brown and the state legislature last year ended California’s redevelopment agencies in order to use those funds for other local government needs.

Do you agree with city consultant Andrea Baker, who Myrow quotes below, that cultivating small businesses like Radio Africa and Kitchen is precisely what government is for?

As I explained in a report for KQED News, Aseged couldn’t afford to launch a brick and mortar restaurant on his own, but he could put down about 35 grand. The city, through a variety of agencies, brought roughly $710,000 to the table and built the restaurant from scratch. It’s a street-level commercial anchor to a new condo complex .

Two months in, Aseged is still in a state of shock over his good fortune. This is a man used to making dinner for about 100 people off of two hot plates.

“We have 12 burners, a grill, griddle, salamander, two ovens. It’s kind of like, overkill over here,” he says.

Aseged is expected to source some of his labor locally. The restaurant is serving dinner now, but soon it will open for lunch, featuring a new crop of young line cooks. They’re being trained nearby at the non-profit Old Skool Café, which works with troubled youth.

Even though the five-year-old Muni T has made this stretch of Third easily accessible, the street intimidates pedestrians, much like Geary and mid-Market do.

“It doesn’t feel walkable,” says Andrea Baker, a consultant for San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development. “And therein lies the difficulty. Because small businesses tend to rely on foot traffic.”

While sipping a large cappuccino from the Road House Coffee Company at Third and Thomas, Baker says the city might help launch a bakery next – or something Indian. (These days, there are more Asian Americans in Bayview than African Americans.)

“Why is it government’s job? Why isn’t it, I would say!” She laughs. “In our system, people pay taxes in the hope that if we all put a little something into it we can create big things.”

Read more about Radio Africa and Kitchen and the Bayview’s foodie rebirth on KQED’s News Fix blog.

Death and Taxes: Heading to the November Ballot

It’s an old adage: Nothing is certain but death and taxes. And Gov. Jerry Brown revived it today as he made some remarks about measures making their way to the November ballot.

A measure that would abolish the death penalty in California and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole qualified for the ballot yesterday. Secretary of State Debra Bowen certified that the initiative petition had garnered the necessary half million valid signatures so California voters will get to weigh in on Nov. 6. One key backer is former director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Jeanne Woodford. As warden at San Quentin Prison she oversaw several executions, but has become a vocal opponent of capital punishment. Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley has emerged as a strong voice against the ballot measure and in favor of the death penalty.

Brown wouldn’t take a stand on the ballot measure just now, but he vetoed death penalty legislation back in 1977, and today said it was a “good thing” Californians will get to vote on it this year.

Brown is also pushing his measure to raise taxes — sales taxes on all of us and income taxes on the wealthy — to generate more revenue for the state budget. The campaign to qualify that measure is in high gear, in a race to collect more than 800,000 signatures next month.

On death and taxes, Stephen Colbert gets the last word.

Tax Initiative Deal Struck, Gathering Signatures Will Be Pricey

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

2:00 p.m. UPDATE: Governor Brown confirmed to reporters in southern California this afternoon that a deal has, in fact, been reached on a November tax initiative. As such, this posting includes updated information and has a slightly tweaked headline from its original form.

By all indications, there’s now a détente in the works that would head off the otherwise expected November ballot clash between Governor Jerry Brown and liberal activists over a tax increase.

Multiple sources confirm a compromise is being crafted that would adhere in some ways to Brown’s existing initiative — mainly, by still including a small sales tax increase — but would boost the income tax increase on the wealthy above where the governor has proposed, while still making all of the taxes temporary.

Neither leaders of the millionaires tax campaign nor Brown’s political team have confirmed any of the details, after the story was first reported this morning online by the Los Angeles Times. But conversations with several Democratic and Capitol sources reveal a tax proposal that feels much more like the governor’s than the one being promoted by a coalition including the California Federation of Teachers.

The signs of a negotiated truce between the two sides seems to be taking some in political circles by surprise, after weeks of increasing tensions between the two camps and Brown’s own prognostication on Monday that multiple tax measures appeared a done deal for November.

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