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Prop 30 Vies For Attention Among Voters

Karla Robinson |
September 26, 2012 | 3:35 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter


Gov. Jerry Brown stands by his Prop 30 message [Creative Commons]
Gov. Jerry Brown stands by his Prop 30 message [Creative Commons]
With the widespread anticipation for the upcoming presidential election, sometimes propositions on the November ballot can appear overshadowed. Just as campaigning can make or break a presidential candidate, attention and advocacy for ballot initiatives can influence their success.

One notable proposition in California that doesn’t receive as much media coverage as Michelle Obama’s DNC speech or Mitt Romney’s occasional slip-ups is the tax initiative backed by Governor Jerry Brown that looks to increase state revenue by upping the sales tax statewide and the income tax on the wealthy. 

(Also see: Why Jerry Brown Needs To Up His Game)

Prop 30 has received some attention in regard to the competing tax initiative backed by civil rights attorney Molly Munger. Prop 38 also raises income taxes for Californians but excludes a sales tax and requires that all the revenue collected go to either repayment of bond debt or education. 

(Also see: Prop 30 vs. Prop 38)

Jesse Rothstein, an associate professor of public policy and economics at UC Berkeley, says these initiatives are vital because “the state just desperately needs revenue.”

“We’ve been cutting services left and right and that’s a crazy thing to be doing right now, especially when the unemployment rate is so high and services are more needed and the macroeconomic effects of cutting are worse,” he said in a phone interview. “[Prop 30] is a way of getting revenue and it’s a sensible way of doing it...It will make the state a better place to live for everybody.”

(Also see: Prop 38 Rouses The Latino Vote)

“It’s critical to the future of the state that proposition 30 passes,” agreed Tenoch Flores, the communications director for the California Democratic Party. He cited the more than $20 billion cut from education in recent years that has caused thousands of teacher lay-offs and increased class sizes.

But despite Prop 30’s necessity, some argue that the initiative's message has not been widely heard. And they are pointing fingers at the governor.

In an interview with the Pacific Standard, Brown admits that he likes to limit his public exposure, saying, “How much time can a governor’s face and voice bombard the citizenry before they regurgitate?”

Political analyst William Bradley calls this the governor’s “stealth mode.” In an article for the Huffington Post, he writes that the Prop 30 push has been lacking. 

“...the campaign has never been especially sustained, either on the yes or no side. Now, with just over six weeks to go, the rubber must meet the road at last.”

Bradley points to a recent Field poll that shows the number of people undecided on the tax initiatives has gone up slightly. “So Brown is going to have to convince people that a little bit of shared sacrifice is necessary to avert a bad result for all,” Bradley writes. “Will he get out of stealth mode to do that?”

In response to criticisms about his lack of communication or “message,” Brown stood by his press office, telling the Pacific Standard, “I think the message is pretty clear. What message hasn’t gotten through?...I don’t have access to the channels—that’s owned by corporations, and they only put on what they want to put on, and they’re not going to put messaging on.”

Flores also defended the Prop 30 campaigning efforts.

“The governor has been out there stumping for this; Democratic leaders have been stumping for it; education groups across the state have also been speaking to the importance of this; student leaders, student groups have also been organizing around this issue,” he said in a phone interview. “So it seems pretty clear that there are a lot of people speaking about the issue, talking to voters about why it’s important to vote yes on it.”

He added that the California Democratic Party has been “working day and night” to get the initiative passed, advocating and making calls on behalf of the proposition. He also said he anticipates the state propositions will be getting more attention as we head into October. 

“I think they’re generally doing the things they need to be doing,” David Gamage, assistant law professor at UC Berkeley, said of the campaign. “In order to make a proposition more likely to pass, the campaigns in favor need to make voters understand what the actual tradeoffs are in terms of what the money will be used for, what cuts will have to be made, and my sense is that they’re doing a pretty good job of that. I think voters understand what the stakes are for the most part.”

Rothstein notes, however, that informing people about these initiatives can be complicated.

“I think there are two big hurdles. One is that people don’t really appreciate where they stand in the income distribution and therefore don’t have a very good understanding of exactly how a particular initiative will affect their tax bill,” he said. “The second issue is a lot of people don’t have a great understanding of how state revenue connects to the state’s ability to do the things that people want it to do. A lot of people don’t understand the extent to which the services they depend on or they need are at risk.”

The time for campaigning before November’s vote is not yet over and more is likely to come from Brown in the coming weeks. But for those who still don’t believe the governor can get his message out, here it is, in his own words: 

“The message is: ‘We have this much money, we’re making some cuts, we’re doing some pension reform. It’s your call—if you can give us more revenue, we won’t have to make more cuts. If you can’t give us the revenue, we’ve got to make more cuts. The moment of truth is upon us. We see it in Europe, we see it in Washington. We have to stand and meet our maker here, which is fiscal balance.’ That is what I am presenting as my value proposition.”


Read more coverage on Prop 30 here


Reach staff reporter Karla Robinson here.



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