Gov. Jerry Brown, beginning to campaign in earnest for his November ballot initiative to raise taxes, appeared this morning outside a Sacramento school in a push to frame the measure as a choice between higher taxes and schools.
"We all know what's at stake," said the Democratic governor, flanked by students at New Technology High School. "The kids standing behind me have their future at stake, and if we cannot pass Prop. 30, we're taking a half a billion out of our colleges and universities, and we're taking five and a half billion out of our schools."
Brown's Proposition 30 proposes to raise the state sales tax and income taxes on California's highest earners. The campaign said Brown will use the start of the new academic year to make appearances at schools throughout the state.
The appearance follows a potentially difficult July for the campaign, including the disclosure of nearly $54 million in apparently hidden state parks money and the revelation that more than 900 state legislative employees received pay raises this year. Brown also signed legislation authorizing initial construction of California's $68 billion high-speed rail project, an unpopular bill.
Asked about the potential impact of the parks scandal on the campaign, Brown said he was prepared for the question and wanted to "exhaust" it.
"You can bring up all the foibles, and you know what? There's a lot more," Brown told reporters at the school. "You know, we've got a lot of flawed people around here. I've got some flaws myself, and you can probably dig 'em out. And, you know, a lot of people don't like things about me or what I say. And I can tell you things about the Legislature, I could tell you things even about the LA Times and the AP and The Sacramento Bee and the media empire. Lots of flaws, I mean, you know they're losing money all the time. But, having said all that, are you for 30 or are you against 30? I think it's a pretty self-contained, zero-sum game."
Opponents of the tax are building their campaign around the arguments that high-speed rail and other expenses are frivolous, and that Brown is a poor steward of what tax revenue he already has.
Joel Fox, president of the Small Business Action Committee, said there will be "some cuts" to education if Proposition 30 fails, but he said Brown exaggerates the impact. He said that opposing the tax increase is necessary to pressure Brown and state lawmakers to enact pension changes and otherwise reduce spending.
Public support for Brown's measure remains above 50 percent, according to recent polls. The measure of support is tenuous but greater than support for a rival tax measure proposed by lawyer Molly Munger. Her Proposition 38 would raise income taxes on all but California's lowest earners.
Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for the Proposition 38 campaign, said in a prepared statement that Brown's appearance was "good stagecraft" but that Proposition 38 would raise more money for public schools.
Proposition 38 would not avert billions of dollars in automatic, midyear spending cuts if Proposition 30 fails, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office, but it could raise billions of dollars more for schools in future years.
"I can tell you one thing," Brown said. "Only this measure saves cuts this year."
The school visit was billed by Brown as a "kick off," though it followed a press conference in Oakland earlier this month and one in Sacramento in May. Still, it has the flourishes of a campaign's beginning - with new signs and promises of a vigorous fundraising and organizational effort.
Brown was accompanied by his dog, Sutter, outfitted in a red vest with Proposition 30 stickers on it. The dog barked when Brown started speaking.
"He wants to get a little more attention, see?" Brown said. "He's a young politician on the make."
As he left, Brown signed a bobblehead and an old newspaper photograph for two young people.