Gov. Jerry Brown said Thursday he is racing to clear the November ballot of two rival tax initiatives because failure will lead to severe ongoing budget problems and Democratic blame-trading.
"If we get down the road and there are no taxes," he said, "there's going to be a lot of finger-pointing."
The Democratic governor, who proposes to raise the state sales tax and income taxes on California's highest earners, said a proposed tax on millionaires would attract many of the same people who might otherwise support his plan, splitting the vote and likely leaving both measures to fail.
"That would, I think, pretty well ensure the defeat," Brown told The Bee's editorial board. "I don't want to say it's an absolute, but it's I want to choose my words wisely but I wouldn't be counting on that tax measure."
Brown's meeting was his second this week with a newspaper editorial board, in an increasingly public effort by the governor and his allies to pressure the supporters of two other tax plans to withdraw. Also Thursday, the California Business Roundtable announced its opposition to the other measures.
Brown said his initiative may be able to withstand the presence on the November ballot of an income tax proposal backed by attorney Molly Munger, but he urged Democrats to coalesce around his proposal, which he said is "more 'MOR' middle of the road."
Brown said the other tax proposals would do little or nothing to address a state budget deficit he estimates at $9.2 billion.
He said his campaign is struggling to make that point resonate with the public.
"There are a lot of people here who believe this is their salvation," Brown said. "It may be the exact opposite."
Neither Munger nor the California Federation of Teachers has suggested they will back down. Steve Hopcraft, a spokesman, said Thursday that the "millionaires tax" may not fill "all the little boxes that have to be checked," but that revenue would benefit many of the same services, including education.
In response to Brown's remarks, Hopcraft said it is possible for more than one initiative to pass but that "if you keep attacking us, you're only raising the negative."
Brown lamented the increasing complexity of government and polarization of politics.
"We're doing a lot, and it's at a level of complexity that mere mortals most of the time don't understand, and it's mostly experts that give us our talking points, and then we talk our points," Brown said. "And it's disquieting to me, because how do you run a country or a state or a city when most of the people in charge don't really have a deep grounding of what they have to deal with? And it's just getting more and more complicated."
Brown, governor previously from 1975 to 1983, said he has a relatively "good handle" on the issues.
"I'm going to try to get whatever brain power and institutional memory I have," he said, "and see if I can't make it work."
He said time is running out.
"This is March," Brown said. "We've got to get the truth out and what the consequences are."
The California Business Roundtable's members include some of the state's largest corporations, such as Chevron, Blue Shield of California, PG&E and Safeway. Though it stopped short of endorsing Brown's tax initiative, the announcement marked the latest in a series of strategic moves by outfits aligning themselves with the governor.
Brown and his allies fear that multiple measures on the ballot may discourage voters from any tax hike. A Public Policy Institute of California poll released on Wednesday showed Brown's initiative has 52 percent support and 40 percent opposition.
Roundtable spokesman Kirk Clark said the business group was waiting to see whether Brown would come through with pension reductions as well as changing environmental laws and business regulations to make it easier for firms to operate in California.
Clark said the group may issue a support or oppose position on Brown's plan after the legislative season ends.
"At this point, the board really wanted to send a signal on the other two while working actively and aggressively with the administration on some of the reforms," Clark said.