Dan Walters: Is Jerry Brown worried about Proposition 30?

dwalters@sacbee.comOctober 23, 2012 

As Election Day – and Halloween – approach, Jerry Brown may be getting spooked that his tax increase, Proposition 30, won't make it.

The California governor once exuded confidence that voters would endorse a sharp increase in income taxes on the wealthy and a token, quarter-cent boost in sales taxes that everyone would pay, portraying it as a way of shoring up support for schools, the single most popular way government spends money.

A cornerstone of that confidence was that he had neutralized potential opposition from business, leaving tax increase foes relatively poor, while raising tens of millions of dollars, mostly from unions, to drive home his message.

Reality, however, hasn't quite followed that scenario. Big business may be neutral, but wealthy individuals and a shadowy Arizona organization have provided the opposition with at least three times as much money as it had planned to spend.

Molly Munger, the single-handed sponsor of a rival income tax measure for schools, Proposition 38, shook up Brown by spending some of her bottomless treasury on ads that took a shot at Proposition 30.

She stopped running those ads after a brief appearance, but her Republican brother, Charles Munger Jr., is one of the anti-Proposition 30 campaign's major financiers.

Opposition campaigns to Brown's left and his right appear to have driven support for Proposition 30, never strong, downward – even below 50 percent in some polls.

It appears, too, that the relatively minor sales tax portion – one-sixth of its projected revenue – could be Proposition 30's Achilles heel. A new anti-Proposition 30 ad, in fact, is entirely devoted to how it would raise consumers' living costs, dwelling on gasoline, which is already a hot-button issue due to recent spikes in price.

Brown has picked up the pace of personal campaigning in the last week but curiously, he has concentrated his appearances on college campuses and in churches – preaching to the choir, as it were.

There was a tone of concern, if not desperation, in his pleas. And he didn't stay on message very well, at one point talking about how the measure would pay for non-school spending, which is a point his opponents have been stressing.

Brown will maintain his intensive personal campaign for his measure over the next two weeks, but it's questionable whether he is its best salesman, given that his own popularity among voters is somewhere south of 50 percent.

It's somewhat reminiscent of predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2005 campaign for ballot measures he dubbed "year of reform." He made it personal, much as Brown is doing, and, like Brown, portrayed it as a crusade for the state's future.

Schwarzenegger lost badly. Brown faces the danger of a repeat.

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