Jerry Brown submits tax petitions, says 'difficult' budget cuts next

Published: Friday, May. 11, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Sunday, May. 13, 2012 - 1:46 pm

In one choreographed appearance at the office of the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters, Gov. Jerry Brown's campaign to raise taxes appeared on Friday to take shape.

A week after announcing he had collected enough signatures to qualify the initiative for the November ballot, Brown – accompanied by a new political consultant, the first lady and his dog – turned several boxes of them in.

The event came just days before Brown is expected to propose deeper spending reductions in a budget revision Monday to deal with a deficit that likely has grown beyond $10 billion.

The Democratic governor cast his tax measure as necessary to avert more dire cuts.

"It's balanced, it's fair and it will take a major step forward in putting California in a very solid position," Brown said, leaning into a lectern outside the registrar's office and flanked by about two dozen supporters. "We are facing a world that is full of economic uncertainties, but with this tax measure, and with the cuts that I'll be proposing on Monday, California will put itself in a very, very strong position."

Brown declined to discuss his budget revision in detail, but he said it "will be a difficult day in Sacramento."

Brown, who proposes to raise the state sales tax and income taxes on California's highest earners, was accompanied by political consultant Ace Smith, whose company, SCN Strategies, will run the campaign.

The signatures are the first of about 1.5 million Brown will submit statewide.

Brown is likely to compete on the November ballot with a tax measure backed by wealthy civil rights lawyer Molly Munger and the California State PTA. Munger, whose initiative would raise income taxes on all but the poorest Californians, said earlier this week that cooperation with Brown's campaign remains a possibility.

Brown on Thursday was noncommittal, saying only that he would "work with anyone to achieve a protection of our schools and a firm financial footing."

The taxes Brown proposes are a major part of his budget agenda. Republicans oppose the measure, while Democrats have been resistant to cuts Brown has suggested.

Legislative Democrats are bracing for "more work on the cuts side" once Brown revises his budget plan next week, said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

"We have not shied away from doing what we have to do and we won't shy away now," the Sacramento Democrat said. "But we will certainly fight to save more than we lose."

Brown's budget is expected to rely on up to $9 billion in revenue from his proposed tax initiative, which would temporarily raise income taxes for top earners and enact a one-quarter of 1 percent increase in the state sales tax – with a round of "trigger" cuts after the election if the ballot measure fails.

While the amount of revenue at stake on the November ballot has grown since the governor's January budget proposal because of changes to the tax plan, Steinberg said he expects the triggers to still target K-12 schools, higher education and the courts.

"I don't see that the fundamentals will change even if the number changes," Steinberg said. "But you've got to make up for a bigger number."

Steinberg signaled support for Brown's effort to negotiate state worker compensation cuts with labor leaders, calling the approach appropriate. As The Bee reported Thursday, Brown is expected to seek an unspecified cut of at least 5 percent in state employee costs in his revised budget.

Brown administration officials have asked state employee union leaders to come up with $750 million in state employee cost savings for the 2012-13 fiscal year, sources told The Bee. Those reductions could include options like pay cuts or higher benefit contributions.

In a memo to members Thursday, SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker said that she was consulted about Brown's plan to cut state employees' pay and that she drew a line at imposing unpaid time off on workers.

"First let me say that I have made it clear that furloughs are not on the table," Walker wrote.

Brown declined on Thursday to discuss his administration's conversations with labor unions. He also declined to take a public position on tobacco-tax and term-limits initiatives on the June ballot.

"Focus, focus," Brown said, telling reporters he is "sticking to the measure that we're filing signatures for today."

Proposition 28 would alter legislative term limits, allowing lawmakers to serve 12 years either in one house or divided between the Assembly and Senate. Lawmakers are currently restricted to eight years in the Senate and six in the Assembly.

Proposition 29 would impose an additional $1-per-pack tax on cigarettes to pay for cancer research and smoking cessation programs.

"As governor, my responsibility is to balance the budget, protect our schools, protect public safety," Brown said. "That's what I'm doing. I need to get this initiative passed, so that's my focus."

Philip Morris USA is among the most recent large contributors to Brown's re-election campaign, donating $26,000 last month.

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