Voter distrust will be a hurdle for Brown tax plan
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Gov. Jerry Brown is pleading with Californians to raise their taxes as part of his solution for solving the state’s budget deficit, but it’s uncertain whether voters will be in an accepting mood come November.
Polls show voters want more money for schools but don’t want to tax themselves to pay for it. They continue to be pessimistic about the economy in a state with one of the highest jobless rates in the nation. And they distrust the Legislature, which oversees the budget.
Brown is facing a tough environment after announcing over the weekend that the state’s deficit had risen to $15.7 billion, much larger than he said a few months ago, said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in Pomona.
“When the governor says devastating things are going to happen, people will say, ‘Look, you said the shortfall was going to be a lot smaller than it was. You were wrong then; why should we believe you now?'” Pitney said. “The governor is facing a trust deficit as well as a fiscal deficit.”
On Tuesday, the Democratic governor defended his plan to raise the statewide sales tax and seek higher income taxes on the wealthy, warning of deep cuts that include a school year shortened by as much as three weeks if voters reject his taxes.
He said it was not a scare tactic but rather the stark reality of a state that is not taking in enough tax revenue to cover its expenses. His administration projected that California’s economy will continue to recover at a modest pace but housing and unemployment continue to be a drag.
“We’re asking for the taxes and we’re asking for the cuts,” Brown said after addressing a victims’ rights conference. “We have no other choice.”
Brown said the size of the tax is fair given that California’s economy is nearly $2 trillion and the measure would mostly impact the wealthy. When he released his $91 billion revised spending plan Monday, he did so with a plea, asking voters to “please increase taxes temporarily.”
Under Brown’s tax plan, California would temporarily raise the state’s sales tax by a quarter-cent to 7.5 percent for four years and increase the income tax for seven years on individuals who make more than $250,000 and joint filers who make more than $500,000.
Brown revised the amount his tax initiative will raise from $9 billion to roughly $8.5 billion through mid-2013. Of that, $5.6 billion will benefit the general fund.
An earlier review by the nonpartisan analyst’s office estimated lower revenues of $6.8 billion.
Supporters of the “Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act of 2012” say the additional revenue would help maintain current funding levels for public schools and colleges and pay for programs that benefit seniors and low-income families.
It also would provide local governments with a constitutional guarantee of funding to comply with a new state law that shifts lower-level offenders from state prisons to county jails.
Anti-tax groups and Republicans say voters are in no mood for taxes and note that the last seven tax increase proposals have been turned down. That includes a temporary sales and vehicle tax extension in May 2009 by a margin of nearly two-thirds.
“The voters aren’t buying Jerry Brown’s tax proposal, because they understand that increasing the already-high state tax burden is not the answer to our problems – problems that are created by Sacramento,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
The Public Policy Institute of California found in April that 65 percent of likely California voters support taxing the rich, but a 52 percent oppose raising the state sales and 57 percent oppose raising personal income taxes.
Voters tend to mistrust the government and assume that the state could maintain public services by cutting wasteful spending, said Bruce Cain, a political science professor at University of California, Berkeley.
“The question is: Does a very drastic budget bring home to people the need for additional revenue?” Cain said.
Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday participated in a rally at the Capitol protesting the governor’s proposed cuts to health care and welfare programs, which they said would disproportionately impact the state’s most vulnerable residents.
“It’s the same families, it’s the same elderly, it’s the same disabled,” said Assemblyman Warren Furutani, D-Lakewood. “They’re being cut over and over.”
Associated Press writer Hannah Dreier contributed to this report.