By Mike Rosenberg
mrosenberg@mercurynews.com

Posted: 10/27/2012 05:00:03 PM PDT
Updated: 10/28/2012 07:29:46 AM PDT

In TV commercials and campaign stops, Gov. Jerry Brown has told Californians that voting against his tax-hike measure, Proposition 30, will mean devastating cuts for public schools. Yet the governor’s finance team concedes that state spending will go up next year regardless of your vote.

So what’s a voter to think? Does the state of California really need more of your money?

This newspaper’s review of state budget figures found:

The estimated $6 billion in extra revenue annually from Proposition 30 quickly would put the state on track to return to peak spending levels before the Great Recession.

The inflation-adjusted tax burden of Californians is now about the same as the average over the past two decades — and will remain so even if Proposition 30 passes. But that tax burden is still among the highest in the nation.

If Proposition 30 fails Nov. 6 — and recent polls suggest that’s a strong possibility — it will take a few years for spending on schools to return to funding levels before the recession began in 2008, according to projections from the Department of Finance. But schools can’t wait that long for the economy to recover to full strength, the Brown administration says.

“The idea is to more quickly rebuild the losses we’ve seen in education,” said Finance Department spokesman H.D. Palmer.

Proposition 30 would temporarily raise state income tax rates on the wealthy and increase the sales tax by a quarter of a cent, costing most people of modest means less than $50 in extra taxes per year.

The projected $6 billion in new revenue each year would go mostly toward education. So Brown has framed the vote as a clear choice: pass the higher taxes, or face $6 billion in “trigger cuts” that will result in higher college tuition and most likely a shorter school year.

“Proposition 30 will restore funding to schools and prevent billions of cuts this year,” Brown said in one TV ad that has been airing in living rooms across California as part of a $50 million campaign.

Cuts, cuts, cuts

But are they really “cuts?”

Even if the measure fails, funding for schools is expected to increase 21 percent from 2012 to 2015 because of economic growth. The $6 billion trigger-cut figure stems from the fact that he and the Legislature started the budget year by assuming that Proposition 30 would pass.

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