Kieffer, head of Service Employees International Union California, has begun breaking his union's silence on Brown's tax plan after the group had quietly pledged support weeks ago.
"I think people do really feel like he's the adult in the room who would take the resources that the state voters have given him and be prudent with it," Kieffer said in a recent interview. "I think they have a really good feeling that this is the guy who goes into a room on Sunday night as kind of the 'Daddy of California' with a checkbook to pay all the bills."
Brown has proposed raising income taxes on the wealthy and hiking the sales tax by a half-cent to help balance the budget and avoid school cuts. He has tried to discourage proponents of two other multibillion-dollar tax measures from qualifying their initiatives for the November ballot, but those groups have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to gather signatures and shown no sign of stepping aside.
Kieffer said that SEIU, which represents government workers and home care providers, sees Brown's plan as the best one to raise money for the entire state budget. The other proposals mostly raise funds outside the state budget to benefit education and county programs.
Just Tuesday, SEIU and United Healthcare Workers rallied to protect $580 million in general fund money that Brown wants to save partly by moving home care workers into a managed care program. The unions generally support that managed care shift, but they want the money to benefit their programs in the form of training and higher In-Home Supportive Services wages, not plug the state deficit.
"We have a huge structural deficit that is gutting education, that is gutting the social services, that is gutting public safety," Kieffer said. "We have a huge problem. (Brown) is the most responsible actor in many respects. And you know, we have had our public disagreements with him, so it's not like I'm saying it just to say it."
Kieffer said he was sympathetic to the other efforts, which began when Brown hadn't made clear his intentions last fall. SEIU even worked with the California Federation of Teachers on its tax on millionaires, Kieffer said. But now that Brown has a plan, Kieffer said it's time for others to depart because they risk jeopardizing the prospects of all tax measures on the November ballot.
"From a public policy point of view, we're going to end up with a big mess, where three competing tax initiatives will collide at the ballot box and we won't get any of them passed," Kieffer said. "Or we'll end up with this silly thing where the one with the most votes will get accepted. So let's imagine that by some magic Gov. Brown's and the 'millionaires tax' both pass, because they have the best polling. You know, the collision of public policy would be quite astounding."
Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign, a left-leaning group backing the CFT tax on millionaires, disputed Kieffer's belief that multiple tax measures would hurt each other. He called it "conventional wisdom only for people inside Sacramento" and compared it to former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's presumed nomination four years ago.
"This is February of 2008," Jacobs said. "Hillary Clinton is going to be the nominee. It's inevitable. It didn't work out that way."
Headline has been corrected to reflect that Kieffer's title is executive director of SEIU California.
PHOTO CREDIT: SEIU Chief Dave Kieffer visits The Bee's Capitol Bureau in June 2011. Sacramento Bee file / Lezlie Sterling