Gov. Jerry Brown can begin collecting signatures on his tax initiative thanks to a timely release by state Attorney General Kamala Harris today.
Minutes before Brown took the podium in the Assembly chambers for his State of the State address, Harris' office issued petition language on his plan to ask voters for a temporary hike in income taxes on the rich and sales taxes.
The governor received a favorable title: "TEMPORARY TAXES TO FUND EDUCATION. GUARANTEED LOCAL PUBLIC SAFETY FUNDING." Brown hopes to frame his initiative as a $6.9 billion increase to pay for schools and public safety, the two highest priority issues for voters.
First Lady Anne Gust Brown and top aide Nancy McFadden said Brown's campaign team would begin collecting signatures today.
The petition language reflects the disparity between the governor's tax projections and those of the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office. Though Brown believes his plan will raise $6.9 billion annually, the analyst thinks it will raise only $4.8 billion in the first budget cycle and $5.5 billion on average at full implementation.
Not until the second-to-last line of the summary is an explanation that besides funding schools, the initiative would "address the state's budgetary problem by paying for other spending commitments." Though the measure directs the entirety of initiative taxes to schools, not all of the tax hike would benefit education because it frees up state leaders to use other dollars to help maintain other programs like health and welfare, corrections and universities.
The governor used his Wednesday speech in part to kick off a statewide drive asking voters and powerful interest groups to support his proposal. Brown plans to visit a school in Southern California today to meet with teachers and will address business groups tomorrow.
Harris' office actually issued two versions of the petition language today because Brown had to resubmit his measure Friday to correct a mistake. Harris spokeswoman Lynda Gledhill said "non-substantive" changes can be re-submitted at any time. She also said there was no processing delay because the legislative analyst filed a new fiscal analysis on the same day Brown corrected his measure.
Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, an opponent of Brown's tax measure, called it "preferential treatment" for Harris' office not to put the governor at the back of the line after correcting his typo last week. But he said he would not challenge today's release.
Coupal said he wasn't too concerned about the language Harris used for signature-gathering purposes. "Where I think we'll be asking for higher degree of objectivity is title and summary for purposes of the ballot," he said.
David Siders contributed to this report. Post updated with comments from Harris spokeswoman.