Dan Walters: Jerry Brown's tax boost is in trouble

dwalters@sacbee.comOctober 26, 2012 

TThe governor of California may not be toast – yet – but, one might say, he's turning browner by the moment in the heat of a political campaign he hoped would be his legacy achievement.

Two new statewide polls confirm what political instincts – and Jerry Brown's body language – were already telling us: His tax increase measure, Proposition 30, is fading fast with scarcely a week remaining until Election Day.

Proposition 30, a $6 billion per year boost in sales and income taxes that Brown said would resolve the state's chronic fiscal problems, never was particularly popular with voters, whose disdain for Sacramento politics is palpable.

The measure topped out just a few points over 50 percent in earlier polls. Given the tendency of tax increase measures to decline during campaigns, that was a tenuous position, and Brown needed a flawless campaign and some luck to make it happen.

But his campaign has been far from flawless. Brown didn't adjust well to having a rival income tax measure for schools, Proposition 38, on the ballot, having failed to persuade its sponsor, wealthy attorney Molly Munger, to back off.

He started serious campaigning late, sent mixed messages and gave opponents – who turned out to have more campaign money than expected – many openings to attack while Brown's union allies diverted most of their resources to opposing Proposition 32.

As he campaigned recently, Brown indulged his lifelong belief that he's smart and erudite enough to talk his way to success. But he diluted his message about saving schools by offering other rationales for the tax hike and complaining about his foes' finances and ads, thus inadvertently playing into their hands.

Clearly, too, Brown hurt himself by trumpeting an unpopular and very expensive bullet train project, while a messy financial scandal in the Department of Parks and Recreation was another downer.

One cannot say, of course, that Brown's measure is dead. But with support falling to below 50 percent in surveys by the Public Policy Institute of California and the USC/Los Angeles Times poll, it's clearly gasping for oxygen and needs divine intervention. Maybe that's why Brown has been campaigning in churches.

As often happens, independent voters – those not affiliated with either party – are proving decisive.

They may be voting Democratic in many races for political office, but they are not enthusiastic about a tax hike, with the state's sluggish economy, and the aforementioned disdain for Sacramento politics, as turnoff factors.

Ironically, one Proposition 30 radio spot sneeringly refers to "Sacramento politicians" but it doesn't jell because the measure is so closely identified with Brown, and his own popularity is no better than Proposition 30's standing – well below 50 percent.

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