Darcel Woods

James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Posted: 09/23/2010 03:24:47 PM PDT

Read their lips: No new taxes. Unless the voters want them.

Darcel Woods, a Democrat running for the 59th District State Assembly seat, and California Attorney General Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, the Democratic candidate for governor, have both said they won’t support tax increases without voter approval.

But with the economy still struggling, some experts predict Californians won’t realistically do that, putting Woods and Brown effectively in the no-taxes camp.

“We are taxed to death,” Woods said Saturday during a candidate forum. “I will not support more taxes without voter approval.”

Woods and others say a special election last year shows that Californians don’t want higher taxes, but Woods also said she thinks voters might approve higher taxes in the right situation.

“Last May, we voted no to more taxes,” Woods said. “The legislators placed a lot of measures on the ballot. … We did our due diligence, we did our homework and we knew they were all about new taxes. We went to the polls and said, `No, you can’t keep coming back to the well.”‘

Woods referred to the May 2009 statewide special election, which featured several ballot measures aimed at helping balance the state budget. Proposition 1A, which would have implemented a state spending limit and extended several tax and fee increases approved by the legislature earlier that year, failed badly, winning votes from just 34.6 percent of voters.

Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the anti-tax group Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said the rejection of Prop. 1A is clear evidence Californians won’t approve more taxes. Other groups say it’s not that simple.

Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, a group that advocates for low- and middle-income Californians, said the vote against Prop. 1A was more about the spending cap – which some public employee unions didn’t like – than about taxes.

“It wasn’t an up or down vote on taxes,” Ross said. “It was one of the most obtuse measures to appear on the ballot in many years.”

Even if that’s the case, Benjamin Bishin, a political science professor at the University of California, Riverside, said he doesn’t imagine voters today are willing to approve tax increases. He said Californians don’t know how badly the state needs money or how many services will be to be cut if no new taxes are approved.

“I couldn’t imagine it happening next year,” Bishin said. “Californians don’t realize the extent to which services will be decimated.”

Vosburgh agreed, saying the political mood is such that “if they know something is a tax increase, they’re going to turn it down.”

That mood, Bishin said, makes Woods’ and Brown’s position shrewd.

“It kind of gives him credibility,” he said. “Everyone says no new taxes … but in practice, it doesn’t really work out that way.”

Woods said her position isn’t about being for or against taxes, but rather about giving Californians a choice and the opportunity to have a conversation about what they want and how much they’re willing to pay.

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