Gov. Jerry Brown and civil rights attorney Molly Munger appear to be heading toward a direct clash over rival tax increase measures that could doom both.
Brown's $6 billion per year sales and income tax increase, Proposition 30, barely tops 50 percent in recent polls of likely voters. Munger's $10 billion income tax boost for schools, Proposition 38, falls short of a majority.
Brown attempted to persuade Munger to drop her measure, worried that having both on the ballot would alienate voters, but she refused. His campaign then publicly urged Munger to avoid attacks on Proposition 30, clearly fearing that they would threaten its passage.
But Munger, who has already committed $28 million and is prepared to spend more, continues to snipe at Brown's contention that Proposition 30 would help schools.
"The governor's tax measure doesn't actually contain new money for schools, oh, a tiny amount," Munger said in a Capital Public Radio interview Monday. "I think it doesn't even deserve the description of Band-Aid because it's just so small it isn't even that."
Simultaneously, her campaign released its first television spot, blaming "Sacramento politicians" for underfunding education and, in an unmistakable shot at Brown, saying, "Now these politicians say unless we send more tax dollars to Sacramento, they'll cut education again."
It's a reference to Brown's new budget that assumes Proposition 30 passes, but also includes $6 billion in automatic spending cuts should it fail, nearly all in education. They are clearly aimed at persuading voters to pass his measure to avoid negative impacts on education, the most popular form of public spending.
The escalating Brown- Munger rivalry was also indirectly joined Monday during an Assembly hearing on the competing measures, with surrogates for both campaigns making their cases for approval, citing enhanced school funding as their chief goals, and opponents hammering at their supposed deficiencies.
At one point, Munger's contention about Proposition 30's minimal benefit to education was echoed by Mark Whitaker of the Legislative Analyst's Office, who said it would largely repay money already owed to schools and therefore "programmatic" funds "would not change much."
At another, a representative of the California Medical Association, which has endorsed Proposition 30 and formed an anti-Proposition 38 coalition, sharply criticized Munger for ignoring health care and other vital services. And the anti-38 coalition responded to Munger's ad by saying it "misleadingly" claims to keep money out of politicians' hands.
Munger's new ad throws down the gauntlet. Brown's camp can hardly let her sniping go unanswered. The debate could balloon into what political pros call a "murder-suicide pact."