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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Why Governor Jerry Brown Needs To Up His Game

Paresh Dave |
September 19, 2012 | 10:16 p.m. PDT

Executive Director

The percentage of Californians who support a ballot proposition authored by Gov. Jerry Brown to raise both sales and income taxes to pay for public schools did not change during the summer.

Just 52 percent of likely voters would vote yes on that measure, Proposition 30, during the upcoming election Nov. 6, according to a survey taken this month by the Public Policy Institute of California. In March, the figure also was 52 percent in a similar poll.

The state’s budget calls for more than $5 billion to be cut from elementary, middle and high schools if Prop 30 doesn’t pass. The cut could force some school districts to cut the school year from 175 days to 160 days. The proposition’s failure also would divert money away from the University of California and California State University systems. Officials at both UC and CSU have said the cuts would mean tuition increases for students.

Since his election two years ago, Brown’s successfully reformed the retirement packages of public employees, given new life to the program that pays workers hurt on the job, cut down on money the state spends on cars, cell phones and giveaways and ushered in spending cuts to welfare programs. But the thorn in his side has been convincing Californians, particularly Republicans who vote and Democrats who usually don’t, to back tax increases.

Prop 30 calls for a four-year sales tax increase, from 7.25 cents for every dollar spent to 7.5 cents. And it would raise for seven years the income tax for people who make more than $250,000.

Brown didn’t spend much time campaigning for the measure during the summer, but the issue of taxes has been one of the most discussed topics all summer in the presidential election. During his own campaign, Brown also stayed relatively quiet compared to challenger Meg Whitman, finally opening up lead against her in a mid-October poll. But now his enemy is not a gaffe-prone individual or group. Unless Brown ups his game during the next month to persuade the 8 percent of undecided likely voters to check yes, he’ll be biting his nails well into the night on the first Tuesday of November.

He won’t have a chance of persuading people like Aram Nersefian, a retired engineer from Valencia, who was among those polled by PPIC. He said redistribution of wealth wasn’t something he wasn’t going to support.

“As soon as I hear labor or education, I know where the money goes and I’m not in favor of that,” he said. “The money goes right to the teachers and it should go to the students.”

Another person included on a list of 25 people -- out of the 2,003 polled -- who agreed to have their phone numbers shared with reporters was Maurice Wimberly.

The 62-year-old retired graphic artist out in the desert city of Cathedral City, said he agreed to take the poll because he’s an opinionated person and doesn’t get a chance to chat much.

“I live in Riverside County where IQ levels are not very high,” Wimberly said. “We fire school teachers here, and there’s not a lot of college-educated people here and it’s hard for me to find people to talk to here. Everyone here is either diseducated or undereducated.”

Keeping teachers in the classroom is part of why he supports Prop 30. The other?

“The population keeps growing,” he said. “Law enforcement will demand higher taxes. You learn how to support abortion to control the population or you have to start paying high taxes. It costs $250,000 to raise a baby from the labor room to high school graduation and most people don’t have a quarter of million dollars. The money has to come from where the money is or the rich can get behind abortion.”

Reminded that California is among states with welcoming abortion laws, Wimberly said, “This is not a one-state issue. This is a 50-state issue.”

Brad Bowman, a retired drug and alcohol counselor from Torrance, said he’s supportive of everyone paying their fair share.

“For instance, Romney has all that money in other countries to beat the taxes here. He pays less taxes than I do,” Bowman said, referring to the Republican presidential candidate.

Mowell Obonyano, a Los Angeles County social worker living in San Bernardino, said he’s backing the measure too.

“When the economy is down, people who are successful should be helping out,” he said.

Both Bowman and Obonyano, like nearly 70 percent of people who supported Prop 30 in the poll, also plan to vote yes for Prop 38. That's a measure that would raise income taxes for everyone -- on a sliding scale -- to pay for education and pay down debt. The measure is backed by the state's PTA and wealthy Pasadena attorney Molly Munger.

Slightly more to the middle of the tax issue was Dave Gunty, an aircraft maintenance officer for the California Air National Guard in Riverside. He said he agreed to be polled because he believes in being a responsible citizen.

He hadn’t heard much about the details of Prop 30 at the time of the survey and didn't remember whether he said yes or no to the survey-taker. Though he still hadn’t done much research a few days later, he said he planned to support it.

Most of the half a dozen people Neon Tommy reached by phone from the list needed a refresher on what Prop 30 was, having jumbled the numbers of the 11 propositions on this year’s ballot in their head despite being polled about them earlier this month.

For Brown, that ought to be a sign that Prop 30 needs a catchier name, among other things, if he really cares about seeing it passed.

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