By BROOKS BARNES
Published: September 10, 2012

LOS ANGELES — First came a competing save-our-schools ballot initiative, backed by a wealthy lawyer who proved more persistent than Gov. Jerry Brown had hoped. Then came a summer of minor financial embarrassments that handed Mr. Brown’s opponents a narrative to use against him.

Molly Munger, a civil rights lawyer, supports Proposition 38, which would increase income taxes for nearly all wage earners.

Now comes a nagging question: Against that backdrop, is Mr. Brown’s $8-billion-a-year proposed tax increase in trouble?

On Nov. 6, California voters will face their usual thicket of ballot measures, 11 in all this time around, ranging from a further crackdown on human trafficking to the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food. But the most prominent by far is a budget-easing measure being pushed by Mr. Brown, who wants voters to approve tax increases to head off even more cuts to the state’s already decimated education system — a loss would automatically set off about $5.5 billion in cuts from public schools and $500 million from the state’s public colleges.

Proposition 30, as the measure is called, would increase statewide sales taxes by one-fourth of a cent and impose an income tax surcharge on Californians who earn more than $250,000 annually. The sales tax increase would expire after four years, and the income tax component would last for seven years. Some of the new money would go to public safety programs, like the supervision of parolees.

Stepping up his campaign for the initiative on Aug. 15, Mr. Brown, 74, framed his argument in biblical terms, telling a crowd gathered at a Sacramento high school, “To those who much has been given, much will be required,” a reference to the Gospel of Luke. The week before last, campaigning in San Diego, he said that students would see “real suffering” if voters rejected the plan.

A defeat could have consequences for the state and for Mr. Brown even beyond forcing deeper cuts in a school system that already ranks 47th in the nation in per-pupil spending. So strenuously has the governor pushed the measure, and so closely has he become linked to it, that a defeat would most likely curb his influence, and might even invite a primary challenge from a younger generation of Democrats. As Mr. Brown approaches the end of his career, his broader legacy is also in play.

“This initiative has been defined as seminal to his governorship,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.

But Proposition 30, supported by California’s teachers’ unions, has run into two snags, both of which are out of Mr. Brown’s control.

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