Tuesday, December 7, 2011

The only way Gov. Jerry Brown can win approval of his November initiative to raise $7 billion a year over the next five years is if he can convince other forces who are planning to qualify tax measures to drop their proposals and unite behind his. And even then, the odds are about 50-50.

That’s the consensus of the California Consultanate – a collection of the smartest and most experienced political strategists in the state who are members of the Calbuzz Advisory Board of Leading Experts on Practically Everything.

Under Brown’s plan, income tax rates would grow by one percentage point for individuals making $250,000,one-and-a-half points for those making more than $300,000 and two points for persons making $500,000 a year or more. Also, the state sales tax would be raised by a half cent. Revenues would be dedicated to schools and public safety.

But at least three other individuals or groups are planning tax measures:

– The California Federation of Teachers and Courage Campaign would raise $6 billion by raising income taxes on millionaires.

–Civil rights attorney Molly Munger, who happens to be the daughter of Warren Buffett’s partner, would raise $10 billion by increasing income taxes, especially on the highest-income individuals.

– The Think Long Committee, a business and civic coalition, would raise $10 billion, largely by extending sales taxes to services.

“To have a chance, the governor needs to step up and convince others to withdraw their initiatives or hold them for a later ballot,” said one GOP member of the Calbuzz panel.

“Brown has to clear the field of the many potential other ballot measures that raise taxes,” agreed a Democratic panelist. “If he can do that he has a chance. But if there are several rival ballot measures on taxes, he will likely lose.”

Brown’s top strategist, Steve Glazer, wouldn’t discuss what negotiations the governor’s brain trust is having with backers of other potential initiatives other than to say he believes Brown’s proposal will enjoy a “good environment” next November.

But everyone knows the electoral calculus: In the history of ballot measures in California, “no” has beaten “yes” two-thirds of the time. And the default position for voters, when the ballot is filled with competing initiatives, is to reject them all by simply voting “no, no, no.”

The governor’s approval rating, right now, is 47%, according to the Field Poll – not great, but not too bad for a chief exec in a state where the Legislature is in budget gridlock and the economy is still lagging. At the same time, two-thirds of voters don’t want the automatic cuts to schools, public safety and other state services that have been negotiated as part of the current budget. So there’s an opportunity to argue, as Brown has and will, that the only way to break the GOP stranglehold on progress is for the voters to elect to temporarily increase their own taxes.

Here are some of the other responses from our panelists when we asked if Brown will be able to pass a tax measure next November.

Democrats:

– No, no and no. The reality of the governor’s proposal is that it raises taxes by $2.5 billion on working families through a sales tax increase – public opinion research has consistently shown that voters do not like raising the statewide sales tax. It isn’t $500,000 – that’s the governor’s spin on it. It is $250,000 for individuals, then $300,000 (1.5% increase) and then $500,000 (2%) increase. Polling has shown these numbers are too low and many voters will view this as hurting “small business owners” (and voters and the press tend to focus on the lower dollar amount – just ask Rob Reiner and his pre-school initiative). It says it will fund “education and local public safety” but in reading the measure, it is about as clear as mud as how it will do that, so much will depend on the title and summary that the Attorney General puts forward. To make it stronger, he should have focused on raising taxes on incomes over $1 million – that would give him a much better chance of winning.

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