Ballot Wars: Jerry Fights for Lone Tax Measure

Diplomacy, it's said, is war by other means. Politics is an amalgam of both -- diplomacy and war.

That reality shapes the dynamic of the current drive by Gov. Jerry Brown to clear the general election field for his ballot proposal to shrink the state budget deficit by enacting temporary increases in higher-income and sales taxes.

Brown believes that his proposal has the best chance of passage if it is the lone tax measure on the November ballot.

Multiple tax initiatives on the same ballot could stymie California voters and, time and again, it's been shown that, when in doubt, Californians tend to vote "No."

It took a while for the governor to craft a proposition that had a chance of passing muster with both the state's business community and labor unions. Brown worked hard to get business groups to at least stay neutral on his proposal. That was the diplomacy part.

But two other competing tax plans started circulating for the November ballot. And the stage was set for war.

By the way, proposition overload -- and voter confusion --will not be limited to just this November's election. By statute, all ballot measures are now required to be placed on the general elections ballot.

One proposal, the so-called "millionaires' tax," has been backed primarily by the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) -- a small union, normally overshadowed by the politically powerful California Teachers Association (CTA), the California Nurses Association, and the Courage Campaign, a progressive, social-media savvy, grass-roots advocacy group.

All are valuable Brown allies and influential Democratic Party constituencies; they demanded a smaller sales tax hike and a larger tax increase on the wealthy than Brown's plan provided.

Wealthy civil rights attorney, Molly Munger (the sister of Charles Munger, who financed Proposition 20, the recently successful congressional redistricting initiative), has so far kicked in about $3.4 million of her own money to qualify a proposal to raise about $10 billion a year, mainly to fund education, through increasing personal income tax rates for almost everyone.

After months of wooing and cajoling, Brown was unable to clear the field.

Meanwhile, reported the Sacramento Bee, the California Chamber of Commerce announced its opposition to both the millionaires' tax and the Munger initiatives, "but remained silent on the governor's own plan, tacitly giving his proposal a boost as he tries to thin the field."

In the face of declining poll numbers and stronger, more visible public support for the millionaires' tax, Brown chose a détente with his liberal allies, by adjusting his proposal to slightly increase the income tax rates on upper brackets and cutting the proposal's half-cent sales tax levy in half.

This has taken one opposing initiative out of play, but the Munger initiative is still very much on the table.

It remains to be seen whether any amount of arguing, cajoling and begging will persuade Munger to shelve her effort. There is also a question of whether the income tax rate adjustment in the revised proposal will be the straw that breaks the camel's back and turns business against the governor's plan.

Will diplomacy prevail or is war inevitable?

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