Gov. Jerry Brown has formally proposed a $7-billion-a-year increase in sales and income taxes to close the state’s chronic budget deficit.
Whether it will be the only tax increase on the November ballot is uncertain. Several others are in the works, and if they reach the ballot as well, voter confusion could doom all. But assuming that Brown’s stands alone, how would the campaign shape up?
By next year, he presumably will have pulled the spending cut “triggers” built into the fiscal year 2011-12 budget because revenues are not meeting their extremely optimistic levels, which would mean schools, colleges and some social programs would be hit again.
Also, he and legislators would presumably have put together a 2012-13 budget that continues or even expands those cuts. Therefore, he and his union allies will argue that raising taxes — income taxes on the rich and sales taxes on everyone — is absolutely necessary to preserve vital programs, especially education.
As Brown said in his open letter announcing the tax campaign, “Schools have been hurt and state funding for our universities has been reduced by 25 percent. Support for the elderly and the disabled has fallen to where it was in 1983. Our courts suffered debilitating reductions.
“The stark truth is that without new tax revenues, we will have no other choice but to make deeper and more damaging cuts to schools, universities, public safety and our courts.”
The governor’s proposal takes the path of the least political resistance. Polls indicate that education is the most popular type of spending and that sales taxes and income taxes on the wealthy — the much-debated 1 percent — are the most popular ways of increasing major revenues.
The California Teachers Association and other unions are presumably ready to spend millions of dollars to trumpet Brown’s argument, but whether opponents can mount an effective campaign is very uncertain.
The state Republican Party is virtually broke, and major business groups and the very wealthy are unlikely to publicly oppose it, based on past tax-the-rich campaigns. But were the opposition to have the money, its pitch would go something like this:
Why should we pay more when we already have one of the nation’s highest tax burdens, when the Legislature is handing out raises to its staff, when politicians haven’t curbed rapidly increasing pension costs, when they’re wasting billions on prisons, when they’ve shunned a spending limit, when they’ve squandered money on a hapless bullet train project and unworkable computer systems, when they’re spending tens of millions on illegal immigrants’ college educations, and — most importantly — when the state is mired in recession and 2 million-plus are jobless?
A well-financed campaign along those lines could be devastating to Brown, et al.
Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.