CAPPS - Avocacy and Communication Professional Development

California Association of Private Postsecondary Schools

Dan Walters: Upcoming tax battle could be a nasty feud

05/07/2012

The Sacramento Bee, May 7, 2012

Let's get ready to rumble.

In this corner is California Gov. Jerry Brown.

In that corner is Molly Munger, a very wealthy civil rights attorney.

Brown and his union allies want voters to raise their own sales taxes, plus income taxes on the most affluent, to narrow a chronic budget gap.

Munger and the state PTA want to raise income taxes on all but the lowest-income Californians to provide more money to schools.

Brown, desperate to eliminate competition that might confuse voters, merged his initial tax proposal into that of a rival group that wanted to tax the rich even more. But his private and public efforts to push Munger aside failed.

Munger dropped $6 million into collecting signatures for her measure and assumedly is prepared to spend many millions more to pass it in November. But she probably can't win because polls indicate that as Californians still feel the effects of severe recession, they're unwilling to pay more taxes themselves.

Indeed, the relatively small sales tax component of Brown's measure is a turnoff for voters and is the major reason why polling shows his overall approach enjoys less than overwhelming support. Were it just a bite on the rich – as Brown's former rivals wanted – it would stand a better chance.

That sets up a situation in which Munger could torpedo Brown's proposal by indirectly joining forces with the anti-tax activists who want Brown to lose but lack big money for an all-out assault.

She could do that by telling the truth. She could spend millions to amplify the theme of her recent public utterances, which is that Brown purports to help the schools with his measure, but really doesn't do much of anything for them.

That's important, because education is the single most popular thing that California government does.

While Brown's plan would give a substantial chunk of the new tax money to schools, it would merely repay money that the state already owes them, not provide any new "programmatic funding," as Capitol budget mavens call it.

It might relieve cash flow problems for the schools but would not increase per-pupil spending and in some analyses would actually reduce it a bit.

Were she to spend millions hammering Brown on schools, it might dissolve the already thin margin of support for his measure.

Would she do it?

It's evident that the Brown-Munger rivalry has become somewhat personal, that she resents the governor's efforts to push her out of the way, particularly her reportedly heated conversations with Brown's wife and political counselor, Anne Gust Brown.

Munger also believes, it's said, that were she and Brown to both lose at the polls this year, she could come back in 2014 with another school finance measure.

Let's get ready to rumble.