Marisa Lagos
Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Gov. Jerry Brown said Tuesday that two tax proposals likely to be competing with his tax measure on the November ballot would do little or nothing to solve the state’s persistent deficit and would create even bigger fiscal problems resulting in further spending cuts.

In a meeting with The Chronicle’s editorial board, Brown sought to sell his tax initiative as the only one that is comprehensive, solves the state’s fiscal crisis and delivers an increase in funding to public schools, universities and other state services.

He said that one of the other tax proposals, known as the millionaires tax, might poll well because it would hit the wealthiest Californians and dedicate money almost exclusively to education, but that it fails to consider the effect of Proposition 98 – the state’s education funding guarantee – and amounts to “ballot-box budgeting” that creates more problems than it solves.

“You can’t look at an initiative in and of itself – it is a piece of the state budget,” he said of the proposal.

The Democrat argued that because the other two tax initiatives – one supported by the California Federation of Teachers, one by wealthy civil rights attorney Molly Munger – earmark the money they would raise for education and other specific local programs, they would still leave the state’s general spending account with a multibillion-dollar budget deficit.

The ‘same mess’

That outcome would devastate health and human services that have already suffered deep cuts, put at risk major reforms of public safety programs enacted last year and alienate voters who thought they were approving such a fix, he said.

“It’s not good for schools, it’s not good for public safety and it’s not good for public confidence, because we go through all this and end up exactly in the mess where we started,” Brown said. “People will be angry because they voted for this and nothing happened.”

He also criticized the initiative from the teachers group for relying solely on the wealthiest Californians – which means that if they have a bad year, the state’s revenue would drop and programs would be cut. His plan, he said, relies on both taxing the wealthy and a state sales tax, which is considered a more stable source of revenue.

The governor’s appearance is part of a larger push by supporters of his plan to clear the November ballot of the other proposals. Earlier Tuesday, a group of advocates for county governments and the poor raised similar concerns in a call with reporters.

All could fail

None of the tax measures have qualified yet for the November ballot, but supporters of all three are well funded and have been working in recent weeks to prove that their measure has the best chance of passing. Brown said Tuesday it seems likely that if all three appear on the same ballot, they will all fail – something many political observers have been saying for months.

The governor’s plan would increase the state sales tax by half a cent and raise income taxes for the state’s highest earners for five years. The measure would raise about $35 billion over the five years, and a recent Field Poll found that 58 percent of likely voters support the plan.

Under Brown’s budget plan, the money raised by the tax would plug about half of the deficit next fiscal year; he is asking lawmakers to cut another $4.2 billion in spending.

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