Gov. Jerry Brown released an Internet ad the other day, asking voters to embrace his multibillion-dollar tax increase.
But the word "tax" is nowhere to be found. The closest Brown or other speakers in the tightly scripted ad come to the T-word is "new revenues." Mostly, it touts Brown's efforts to cut state spending and declares wrongly that the state's credit rating has improved.
"We've made progress, but we still have very serious budget problems in California," Brown says in the ad. "We simply have to take a stand against further budget cuts for schools or for our public safety. To do that, we're going to the people."
Opponents of Proposition 30, which would raise sales taxes slightly on everyone, and income taxes sharply on high-income Californians, don't shy away from "tax."
"Sacramento politicians have turned their backs on education and public safety and voted to waste billions on the largest boondoggle in American history," Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, says in a new anti-Proposition 30 radio spot.
"These same politicians are using scare tactics to force tax increases on the working people of California. While they push for more taxes, frivolous spending and political cronyism, they ignore desperately needed reforms to education, pensions and spending."
These two bits of propaganda frame what promises to be a slam-bang campaign over the next three months, one whose outcome will affect the state's finances and politics for years.
Brown appears eager to make himself, not taxes, the issue, exploiting minute gestures of frugality, such as reducing bureaucrats' cellphone use, and his veto of the Legislature's 2011-12 budget, to persuade voters to follow him on Proposition 30.
That is a risky strategy, since Proposition 30's chances are no better than 50-50 and his popularity is well below 50 percent.
Similarly, predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger made himself the issue seven years ago to sell ballot measures, only to see his image battered by a relentless opposition and his measures lose.
Coupal's spot indicates that if Brown wants to be the issue, Proposition 30's opponents will happily comply. They have plenty of material, starting with the fact that the 2011 budget veto the governor's ad touts was quickly followed by a budget based on a pie-in-the-sky $4 billion revenue assumption.
The bullet train could be a downer, as could the Legislature's giving to its staffers while cutting state employees' pay and the revelations about hidden surpluses in the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Coupal, et al., won't lack for ammunition; the only question is whether they'll have the money to fire it.