By David Siders
Published: Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 – 7:18 am
One reason several months ago to think Gov. Jerry Brown’s ballot measure to raise taxes might have a better chance of passing than previous, failed tax initiatives was its potential to look more like a local issue than a statewide one.
Local revenue measures are typically easier to pass, and by signing a budget requiring billions of dollars in cuts to education if his ballot measure failed, Brown forced local school districts to publicly consider the effect of such an outcome on their schools.
Throughout the state, school board members and superintendents have held headline-grabbing conversations about what midyear spending cuts they might make if Proposition 30 fails – or about what popular programs they could afford if it passes.
“We communicated it pretty clearly,” Fresno Unified School District Superintendent Michael Hanson said. “We’ve done our level best.”
But a week before Election Day, the effort appears to be falling short.
Brown said as recently as two weeks ago that voters were not yet paying a lot of attention to his proposal to raise the sales tax and income taxes on California’s highest earners. To the extent that voters are paying attention, the message they have received has not primarily been a local one.
Brown has placed himself at the center of the campaign, crisscrossing the state on its behalf, while anti-tax groups cast the measure as a product of “Sacramento politicians” in their radio and television ads.
“The governor, first of all, is in the middle of it, and you know, it’s the first thing on the ballot as a state proposition,” said Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California. “It just seems to me the conversation in the last few weeks has not been at all about local schools and local money. It’s been about the state as the intermediary.”
It is a difficult position for Brown. It has been eight years since California voters last approved a statewide tax increase, a levy on millionaires for mental health services. Brown’s measure includes a broader income tax increase and a sales tax, and it is flagging in public opinion polls. Among likely voters, support for Proposition 30 dropped below 50 percent in the most recent public polls.
Local measures fare far better. Nearly two-thirds of the 87 local bond and tax measures on the ballot passed in California’s June election, including eight of nine local sales tax measures, according to an analysis by Michael Coleman, a municipal finance expert.
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