Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Jerry Brown has a big problem with tax measures

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012 - 12:04 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:16 pm

When Jerry Brown goes into his bunker – or monk's cell or man-cave – and issues cryptic messages, you know he's up to something.

California's governor did it again last weekend during a brief appearance before a state Democratic convention in San Diego.

He could have used his time to give Democratic activists a compelling argument why they should get behind his plan to raise Californians' taxes to balance the state budget – the plan that he's been trumpeting day and night, publicly and privately, for weeks.

Instead, he barely mentioned taxes, saying, "Look, we've got some issues. We've got a tax measure, we have a … few issues there, and we'll be talking about that from time to time."

Then he added, cryptically, "You'll get your marching orders soon enough," and ducked out quickly. He refused to answer questions from reporters, saying, "I think you guys have to take each speech one at a time."

Brown's got a big problem. While he claims that his plan would bolster schools and "public safety," the two most popular governmental functions, many education officials are downright hostile. They complain that even if his tax plan passes, schools would get no increase in per-pupil financing, as a recent report from the Legislature's budget analyst points out.

"In other words, education doesn't get more funding if (Brown's tax plan) passes," San Diego's deputy schools superintendent, Scott Patterson, told his local newspaper recently. "Instead, we get less funding if it fails."

Many educators prefer one of the competing tax measures that would raise income taxes and direct all revenue to schools. The three-way conflict was very much in evidence at the Democratic convention.

The California Federation of Teachers and the California Nurses Association are pushing a so-called "millionaires' tax" while civil rights activist Molly Munger and the California PTA have a broader income tax measure for schools.

Brown is openly worried that if all three make the ballot, it would be, in the words of his top political adviser, Steve Glazer, a "circular firing squad" that would confuse voters and imperil all three.

It's probably too late for Brown to alter his tax initiative, for which signatures are already being gathered, but he's trying, somehow, to get his rivals to drop their campaigns.

Meanwhile, John Mockler, a veteran education consultant who wrote Proposition 98, the 1988 school finance law, has been attempting, on behalf of Brown and the California Teachers Association, to bring other school groups aboard, but so far without success.

Brown could garner much-needed support from school leaders if more of his measure's revenue went to schools – but that would mean less for other spending, thus creating other pockets of resistance.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Dan Walters



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