Polling looks good for Brown

It was a fine weekend for Jerry Brown. He should be elated with the first polling on his revised tax initiative. And the California Teachers Assn., a strong supporter of his first initiative, has come around to back the new version, too, and committed $9 million for the June and November elections. At least a piece of that’s expected to help Brown round up signatures to get the initiative on the ballot, though how much has yet to be disclosed.

Results of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll of 1,500 registered voters show that 64 percent of voters back a temporary quarter-cent sales tax and higher income taxes on those making at least $250,000 ­– the compromise that Brown and the California Federation of Teachers agreed to earlier this month in merging their initiatives; 33 percent of those polled opposed it. Democrats were predictably for it (80-16) and Republicans agin (38-61); however, Brown did surprisingly well with independents, three-quarters of whom said they support the initiative, with 23 percent opposed.

Voters were told the money – $7 billion to $9 billion – would go toward public schools, community colleges, services for children and older adults, and local public safety, in line with the new initiative’s title (the School and Local Public Safety Protection Act of 2012) and summary. Brown can claim that because, while the revenue will go to the General Fund, a portion will go to K-12 and community colleges through Proposition 98, while $2 billion will support realignment, in which counties will permanently take responsibility for some social services and prisoners transferred to county jails.

The poll was taken in the days immediately after the deal between Brown and the CFT, but before the teachers union decided to stop collecting signatures for its Millionaires Tax, so pollsters asked about that one, too. CFT proposed a permanent, higher tax, though only for millionaires.

CFT’s initiative outpolled the hybrid tax plan 69-27, 5 percentage points higher. But business lobbies had already come out against CFT’s plan and may have waged war against it, so Brown’s tradeoff – sticking with a small sales tax and lowering the rates on the wealthy – could prove smart if business groups end up sitting on their hands.

“Jerry Brown may have pulled off a coup. By convincing the teachers to drop their initiative, he ends up with a compromise that still draws big levels of support,” Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, said in a statement.

The strong poll results on the initiative would appear to contradict Californians’ ambivalence about paying any new taxes. Asked whether the state’s $9 billion deficit should be resolved through a combination of taxes and cuts, as Brown proposed, or just cuts, 49 percent said do both taxes and cuts, while 45 percent said cuts alone. Apparently, respondents feel OK about taxes as long as they’re not getting the bill. (A full 80 percent also favor a $1 a pack tax increase on cigarettes, which is on the June ballot.)

That sentiment is reflected in the apparent opposition to the other tax proposal that may be on the November ballot, proposed by civil rights attorney Molly Munger and backed by the state PTA. It would provide $11 billion to K-12 and early childhood education by increasing the income tax across the board, though most families earning less than $50,000 would pay a negligible increase. It polls the mirror image of Brown’s new tax, with 32 percent in favor, 64 percent against. (Munger and the PTA face the challenge of explaining to voters that the increase will apply to their net incomes, after deductions, not to their gross incomes.)

The  endorsement of Brown’s merged initiative by CTA’s State Council of 800 delegates was expected, but critical nonetheless.

In a statement, CTA President Dean Vogel called the revised plan “a responsible and progressive plan that requires the wealthy pay their fair share in order to close the state budget deficit, restore funding to schools, colleges and essential public services and put California on the road to recovery.” He promised to work “with other labor unions and community groups to quickly qualify this initiative for the November ballot.” That implies that CTA will fork over some of the $4 million to $5 million it will take to get 1.2 million signatures by mid-May.

The State Council will meet again in June, at which point it could agree to additional spending on the November election.

Brown, CFT cut deal for November

Now there are two.

Gov. Jerry Brown is halfway to having only one tax initiative on the November ballot, now that a coalition led by the California Federation of Teachers has agreed to merge its proposed tax with Brown’s in a deal that will raise more money from the wealthiest 1 percent for a longer period – with a portion of the extra money likely going to  the state’s community colleges and universities.

The agreement, announced Wednesday, leaves civil rights attorney Molly Munger’s $10 billion income tax initiative, devoted primarily  to early childhood education and K-12 schools, as the remaining potential competitor on the ballot. A spokesman for Munger’s Our Children, Our Future initiative insisted that the effort to collect signatures to qualify for the ballot would continue, but there will be renewed pressure on her and her ally, the state PTA, to halt the campaign or on Brown to reach an accommodation with them. Key business groups – the California Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable – have already come out in opposition to Our Children, Our Future, while not yet endorsing Brown’s plan. (Business will wait to see if the Legislature passes pension reform, its top priority.)

In grafting the CFT and the Courage Campaign’s Millionaire’s Tax of 2012 onto Brown’s Schools & Local Public Safety Act, the text of the governor’s initiative will remain the same; only four numbers will change. Brown agreed to:

  • Halve the sales tax increase from ½ to ¼ percent, reducing a regressive tax on the poor and middle class. It will run four years, starting Jan. 1;
  • Leave  the income tax increase on joint filers earning $500,000 at 1 percent, but raise the tax on joint filers earning $600,000 by 2 percentage points instead of 1.5 percentage points, and the tax on millionaires by 3 percentage points instead of 2 percentage points;
  • Extend the income tax to seven years, instead of only five years.

Brown had projected that his tax would raise as much as $6.9 billion per year, but the Legislative Analyst said that might be as much as $2 billion too high; the Department of Finance is saying the new initiative could raise between $7.1 billion and $9 billion, an additional $2 billion.

The CFT’s initiative had promised that 40 percent of its tax would be divided equally among community colleges, CSU, and UC, with 20 percent committed to K-12 schools and the rest toward social services and public safety. There’s no explicit commitment to higher education in the governor’s initiative, which would divert a portion of revenues from the sales tax and vehicle license fees to pay for public safety and some social services now the responsibility of counties and local communities. The rest would shore up the General Fund. But the CFT is expected to press for additional money for higher ed through the budget process – and call in its UOMEs.

It will take a massive effort to collect more than 1 million signatures by early May to qualify the revised initiative  for the November ballot. For insurance, Brown will also continue collecting signatures for his current initiative, in case the new one comes up short.

CFT’s initiative had outpolled the governor’s initiative, with 63 percent support vs 58 percent, in a Field Poll last month; Munger’s got slightly under 50 percent. But the CFT, the smaller of the two teachers unions, didn’t have a lot of money to wage a protracted campaign, especially if business interests were to throw money to defeat it. It also didn’t want to be blamed if a confused electorate defeated all of the competing initiatives.

But Brown, too, had reason to compromise. In a Public Policy Institute of California poll this month, the governor’s initiative drew only 52 percent support, down from 68 and 62 percent support in two earlier polls.

Recently, there was an escalation of words between Brown and the CFT after the governor called for the union and Munger to abandon their initiatives.

“It’s not going to happen,” CFT President Joshua Pechthalt said at a news conference last week. He vowed that the union was poised to spend another $1 million for its signature drive.

Earlier this year, Brown had paid a personal visit to Pechthalt’s home in Los Angeles to try to persuade the union to give up. He told the Sacramento Bee editorial board that he lingered to help Pechthalt’s 12-year-old daughter with a school assignment.

In the long run, it worked – a reminder to Brown how important it is to do your homework – or at least someone else’s.

CTA’s a team player for Jerry Brown

The president of the California Teachers Association said Monday that in backing Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative, the state’s largest teachers union is agreeing to “stay at awful” for now with the expectation that more money will flow again to schools in coming years. But if voters defeat the $6.9 billion tax measure in November, the CTA will fight Brown – and go to court if necessary – to prevent the governor from exacting disproportionate cuts to K-12 schools.

The 800-member CTA State Council on Sunday endorsed Brown’s plan to use higher taxes to increase the state’s General Fund over a rival plan from the California Federation of Teachers that would split among K-12 schools, higher education, and social services an estimated $6 billion to $9 billion from taxing millionaires. CTA president Dean Vogel estimated the governor’s plan got 70 percent of delegates’ support on a voice vote.

“The governor’s initiative is the only initiative that provides additional revenues for our classrooms and closes the state budget deficit, and guarantees local communities will receive funds to pay for the realignment of local health and public safety services that the Legislature approved last year,” Vogel said in a statement.

That’s only partially true. The governor is  proposing no additional money for the classroom, including not funding a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment to which the schools would be entitled. Instead, Brown would use $5 billion in additional revenue to pay off deferrals, a form of short-term debt in which the state budgets money for schools one year but delays payment to districts until the next year.

The CFT proposal and a rival initiative by civil rights attorney Molly Munger, which CTA delegates did not seriously consider, would provide immediate increases in school spending. But Vogel said they wouldn’t  address the estimated $9 billion deficit facing the General Fund. The union’s taking the view that the financial crisis facing the state “is not just about schools but about communities” – and the need to protect preschool and the state’s university systems as well as heath and social services.

Brown’s tax would at least stabilize funding for schools, setting up the prospect for eventually repaying money to schools while building up the base for Proposition 98, Vogel said.

Brown’s plan would temporarily raise the sales tax by a half-cent and the income tax on upper-income Californians (those earning more than $250,000). If it fails, the governor would manipulate Prop 98 to impose an extra $2.4 billion cut in school spending. He would shift the burden of repaying school construction bonds from the General Fund to Proposition 98, keeping funding level while adding a multibillion-dollar expense.

Threatening schools with a $5 billion cut helps Brown sell the need for passing his tax increase, but Vogel said that the CTA would fight further tampering with Prop 98, in court if necessary.

Vogel told CTA delegates that the Service Employees International Union, the other big teachers union, will back Brown’s initiative, too, although the SEIU has yet to announce its decision. If true, that leaves the CFT the only school union holdout, with enough money to bring its initiative to the ballot but not enough to sustain a campaign. Munger, whose proposal to raise the income tax would raise $10 billion for K-12 schools and preschools,  has shown no sign of backing off putting  her competing plan on the ballot.

Vogel told Kevin Yamamura of the Sacramento Bee that the CTA would pony up an undetermined amount of money for the governor’s initiative, although the union is also facing a potentially expensive battle to defeat an initiative that would restrict the collection of union members’ dues for political campaigns. The CTA does not plan to ask members for a surcharge on dues, as it did to fight similar unfriendly initiatives  in 2005, Vogel said.