Joe Garofoli, Wyatt Buchanan,Marisa Lagos, Chronicle Staff Writers
Friday, December 2, 2011

The tax-the-rich sentiment behind the Occupy Wall Street movement – and the cash-starved state budget – are reshaping California politics.

Several measures to raise taxes are aimed at the November ballot and most would hit the wallets of the wealthiest Californians.

At least five tax-raising ballot initiatives backed by people with deep pockets are gaining momentum, including one expected to be filed today by Gov. Jerry Brown. However, some supporters worry that the initiatives could be too much of the same thing.

Some of the competing measures are being funded by labor unions and left-leaning groups that typically are political allies. While analysts expect the logjam to thin out, the ballot box cacophony could squander a rare political moment in which Californians are open to raising taxes.

Voters have rejected the last seven tax-raising measures put before them, and history shows that when Californians see similar-sounding measures on the ballot, they vote no on all of them.

“Especially when they involve taxes,” said A.G. Block, associate director of the nonpartisan University of California Center at UC Davis.

That makes conservative antitax advocates like Jon Coupal happy.

“It’s much easier to hammer home a message to voters (that says): Look at how they all want to raise your taxes,” said Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which has great influence among conservative Republicans.

Noting that labor organizations are divided, Coupal said, “They can make our life more difficult if they’re all reading off the same page, but I don’t believe they have the capacity to do that.”
Culling the offerings

Realizing this, earlier this week, Diana Dooley, secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency, told a group gathered in San Francisco that the Brown administration is working “behind the scenes” to ensure that “we don’t have competing proposals” on the ballot.

It’s not clear if the governor can head off the litany of proposed measures or whether his proposal will have the most appeal to voters.

A recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll showed that Californians favor raising taxes on the wealthy, especially when the money goes to schools.

That’s exactly what a group fronted by the liberal online Courage Campaign and the California Federation of Teachers wants to do. On Thursday, they proposed an initiative that would raise $6 billion for K-12 education solely by raising income taxes on Californians who earn more than $1 million a year.

Another proposal, backed by the state PTA, would raise $10 billion a year in new revenue by raising taxes on a sliding scale on nearly all wage earners, with the heaviest burden on the wealthiest.

The money would go directly to local K-12 schools and early childhood education. The measure forbids the governor and legislators from using the money or directing how it may be spent. The measure is sponsored by Los Angeles attorney Molly Munger, whose billionaire father, Charles Munger, is a longtime top associate to Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett.
Occupy’s impact

Munger, who described herself as a “decline-to-state voter who usually votes Democratic,” said that while many of these ballot initiatives have been discussed in some form for months, the Occupy Wall Street movement “shined a light on what was going on. They were right to make a fuss about the inequalities in our system and ask what could be done about it.”

Brown’s initiative, which would raise income taxes on wealthy Californians and increase the sales tax by half a cent for four years, has a broader scope but also an expiration date.

Sources involved in the talks with the governor said the plan, if approved by voters, would raise roughly $7 billion. Still, that wouldn’t be enough to fully cover the projected budget shortfall next year, which the Legislative Analyst’s Office has estimated will be $13 billion.

To read entire story, click here.