Counties and sheriffs organizations are expected to decide today whether to pursue their own initiative protecting about $6 billion in annual state revenues - or back Gov. Jerry Brown's measure that would do the same while asking voters for higher taxes.
The Democratic governor will appear at a California State Association of Counties board meeting this morning to convince local officials to join his effort. Brown has filed an initiative that would increase the sales tax by a half-cent and raise income taxes starting at $250,000 for single filers.
Counties agreed this year to assume a host of state responsibilities, most notably incarcerating lower-level offenders and overseeing parolees. The state agreed to pay them for accepting those duties, but counties want that guarantee in the state constitution, where it cannot be easily changed by lawmakers and future governors.
When they filed their own measure in November, counties, sheriffs and probation officers said they wanted a separate protection that did not depend on voters approving taxes, as Brown's measure does. Their internal polling showed that a separate measure would fare better, though it would require local officials to raise and spend their own money.
Joining the Brown effort would be less expensive for county organizations, and it would ensure that they remain in the governor's good graces. But it also involves greater political risk that voters will reject higher taxes, thus leaving counties without a constitutional protection until the next initiative opportunity in November 2014.
Another consideration is that pursuing a separate measure may incur the wrath of the education lobby. The counties' proposal would sector off 1.0625 percentage points of the statewide sales tax, a share of which would normally go to K-12 schools and community colleges. Some education groups, principally the California Teachers Association, are expected to get behind the governor's plan.