By Kevin Yamamura
Published: Tuesday, Jun. 26, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 26, 2012 – 7:55 am
Two days before California lawmakers were scheduled to vote on a new state budget, details emerged Monday on new provisions that could help Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative at the polls.
One of the biggest surprises was language propelling all bond measures and constitutional amendments to the top of the ballot, likely ensuring that Brown’s tax hike on sales and upper-income earners will take the favorable lead spot on a November ballot chock full of voter questions.
Senate Bill 1039 declares that bonds and constitutional amendments, including initiatives, should receive top billing “because of the profound and lasting impact these measures can have on our state.” Brown’s initiative contains a permanent shift of certain duties to counties, but its most prominent component – the tax hike – is temporary in nature.
Mark Hedlund, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, called the majority-vote change a “clarification” of the law’s intent.
But as recently as November 2010, California’s statewide ballot listed initiative constitutional amendments like Brown’s behind other ballot measures, in the order they qualified. The governor’s initiative was the ninth proposal to qualify for November. It could move to first if lawmakers delay the state’s water bond as expected.
“It’s like changing the rules of the game in the seventh inning,” said Nathan Ballard, spokesman for a rival income tax initiative by attorney Molly Munger that would appear lower on the ballot because it is not a constitutional amendment and was among the last to qualify.
Two new education “trigger” provisions could provide Brown a more powerful argument as he asks voters to raise the sales tax by a quarter-cent on the dollar and hike income taxes starting with single filers earning $250,000.
A new education budget bill includes a deeper “trigger” cut in the K-12 school year should voters reject Brown’s tax measure. In May, Brown said that if his tax fails, districts could cut 15 days combined over the next two school years, such as eight days one year and seven days the next.
Assembly Bill 1476 now says districts can cut 15 days in each of the next two years for a combined total of 30. H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for Brown’s Department of Finance, said the governor sought the harsher trigger consequence because districts reported “that if something of this magnitude comes down, they wanted the ability to go to that level in each of those years.”
Brown and lawmakers also added language designed to freeze in-state tuition at California State University and University of California campuses this upcoming year – if voters pass the tax hike. CSU has already approved a 9 percent tuition increase, while UC has said it may pursue a 6 percent jump.
Under the plan, California would provide each university system an additional $125 million in 2013-14 as long as it freezes tuition this year. Brown could make the case to middle-class voters that approving the tax hike would ensure tuition stays level, while rejecting it would result in an increase.
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