Special-interest groups could unite for passage
James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Created: 03/05/2011 07:11:16 AM PST

Republican lawmakers say they don’t want a set of tax extensions to go before California voters in a June special election.

While lawmakers say that’s because voters rejected a nearly identical slate of taxes two years ago, making another election a waste of time and money, some Republican legislators and strategists say there’s another reason: because voters might approve the taxes this time.

“I think it’s going to be a much closer vote than the last one,” said Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucaipa.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget plan calls for solving the state’s $26 billion budget deficit by cutting spending, taking money from special government funds and extending a set of tax increases approved by the Legislature in 2009. Specifically, the proposal calls for extending increases in sales tax, income tax and the vehicle license fee – some of those increases lapsed on Jan. 1 – for five years, raising about $11 billion this year.

In May 2009, voters overwhelmingly rejected a plan to extend those tax increases by two years. But despite that, Cook and others say there’s good reason to believe the tax measure could pass.

“It depends on the different special-interest groups and how much they buy in to this election,” Cook said. “Right now, I think they’re all in. You’re going to see a lot of money.”

Republicans are specifically concerned about public employee unions, which would likely offer plenty of money and support to pass the tax
measure. The tax extensions would almost certainly prevent many state workers and public school teachers from losing their jobs.

That’s especially worrisome because unions were not united behind the tax extensions in May 2009.

“The unions were split in the last go-round,” said Jon Fleischman, a vice chairman of the California Republican Party and publisher of FlashReport.org, a popular blog about California politics. “They would not be this time.”

Total union support would mean lots of money and lots of manpower going into a campaign for the tax measures, Fleischman said.

Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, said that’s true, but that there’s another, larger group that could be more influential.

“Probably much more so than in 2009, you’ve got parents of kids in public schools,” he said. “The schools have taken a hit and the message of the people in favor of the measure is that schools are going to take another huge hit if it doesn’t pass.”

Brown last week released a draft of the tax measure he’d like to see put on the ballot – he’s calling it the Public Safety and Public Education Act of 2011. Fleischman said Brown and California Democrats are simply trying to scare voters into supporting tax increases by threatening to cut from schools and public safety.

True or not, scare tactic or not, Dean Bonner, a research associate with the Public Policy Institute of California, said it’s a good way to drum up support for the measure.

“If the governor can tie (the taxes extensions) to specific things, and if he can do a really good selling job on this, I think there’s the potential that something could pass,” he said. “You could have people who are against tax increases in general who could potentially be for it.”

Pitney said Brown, much more than Schwarzenegger in 2009, is in a good position to do just that.

“Schwarzenegger had lost pretty much all his persuasive power by 2009,” Pitney said. “Jerry Brown still has some. … For the time being, voters are much more likely to take him seriously.”

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