Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Can Jerry Brown scare up a victory?

Published: Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:16 pm

Gov. Jerry Brown spent much of last week trying to scare California voters into voting for higher taxes.

Brown, speaking to community college students in San Diego, promised "real suffering by you and really our whole future" if voters reject his sales and income tax measure, Proposition 30.

It's a somewhat disingenuous argument, albeit a clever one, rooted in the poll-tested assumption that education is the single most popular state program.

While Proposition 30's proceeds would be technically routed into K-12 schools and community colleges, they would largely pay for a long-standing constitutional commitment, while freeing up billions to spend on other, less popular services.

Conversely, however, if Proposition 30 fails, Brown and the Legislature have decreed that education funds would be whacked, thereby creating a doomsday scenario in hopes that voters will respond by passing the measure.

Is it working? It's too early to say for certain, but a comprehensive new poll finds that while most voters appear inclined to vote for Proposition 30, the margin of approval is very thin, and arguments against it resonate strongly.

The poll, conducted for Policy Analysis for California Education, an education think tank, and the University of California's Rossier School of Education, echoed other recent polls showing that Proposition 30's support is a few points over a majority.

Ominously, however, just 35.1 percent of voters agreed with a summary of Brown's argument about taxing the wealthy more for schools and public safety.

Meanwhile, nearly 49 percent agreed with the opponents' argument against the measure, that the state wastes money on a bullet train and a legislative staff salary increase, while millions of dollars in hidden funds were found in a department's accounts.

"Californians are willing to spend money in order to protect their schools from spending cuts," poll director Dan Schnur said in an analysis of the results. "But they also believe that state government is spending too much money on things that aren't necessary and want to see that spending reined in before supporting the governor's initiative."

It boils down, Schnur says, to a question of whether "state government can be trusted with their tax dollars."

The good news for Brown is that he has millions of dollars to make his pitch, while opponents have scant funds. But looming in the background is Molly Munger, a wealthy attorney who's spending even more millions on her rival tax measure for schools, Proposition 38, and has been taking potshots at Brown's plan.

Will she spend big bucks on anti-Proposition 30 ads?

The PACE/USC poll indicates that a well-financed opposition campaign would doom the measure, which is why top Democratic politicians are publicly begging her not to do it.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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