The campaign to establish a state lottery nearly 30 years ago adopted "schools win too" as its theme. And it worked.
Voters responded because education is the single most popular category of public spending, even though in reality, the lottery provides schools with little or nothing in extra money.
This year, Gov. Jerry Brown is using the same theme to sell voters on raising sales and income taxes. The opening words of his measure's official ballot title are "Temporary taxes to fund education "
Whether schools would actually benefit from the taxes is very uncertain; he has, however, signed a bill that would slash school spending by $5.5 billion should it fail.
It's a very risky strategy for a measure that, at the moment, has no better than a 50-50 chance of passage.
For one thing, a recent Field Poll found that voters don't like school funds being on the chopping block. They could conclude that Brown is holding schools hostage and resent the implied extortion.
For another, a rival income tax measure sponsored by civil rights attorney Molly Munger would unquestionably give schools a substantial boost in money and she could spend some of her large personal fortune to dump on Brown's plan, as she has done in public appearances.
Munger clearly resents last-minute legislation that placed Brown's measure at the top of the November ballot rather than near the bottom with hers, and even asked a judge to block the shift. Meanwhile, backers of Brown's measure have formed a committee to oppose Munger's another clue that open warfare is looming.
Finally, by putting all of his eggs in a save-the-schools basket, Brown invites opponents on the right to take potshots at other ways the state is spending money that could go into the classroom, including the north-south bullet train that has become the governor's signature project.
Prior to a final legislative vote on the bullet train, several polls found that a majority of voters were opposed and a Field Poll found that more than a fifth of voters inclined to vote for new taxes would reconsider should it be approved.
Thus, taxes could die in a train wreck.
And then there are pensions. Brown has said that the Legislature's failure to enact significant public pension reforms could doom taxes, although Field's polling on that point is inconclusive.
Brown and Democratic legislators, who are joined at the hip to public employee unions, are at odds on the extent of pension reform. The stalemate means that anything done now would be in a statute that could easily be changed later, not in the state constitution.
That gives tax increase opponents an opening to charge that any pension reform is phony, and legislators are more interested in protecting their political patrons than schools.