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Recent California tax initiatives attempt to move past partisan gridlock

by Christopher A. Guzman, published

Governor Jerry Brown has announced the filing of a tax initiative with the state Attorney General’s office, one touted as capable of generating nearly $7 billion in dedicated funding for the protection of education and public safety. It’s a plan that- along with the recent Think Long proposal- sells itself as moving beyond partisanship.

“I am going directly to the voters because I don’t want to get bogged down in partisan gridlock as happened this year. The stakes are too high,” he said in an open letter released on Monday.

As for the “partisanship” that occurred, the Governor was referring to the previous failure of a tax extension plan he put forth that also contained certain cuts. He asked the state legislature to vote on and submit the plan to the state’s voters, but it didn’t gain enough support. As a result of its demise, Brown pinned failure for the matter on Republicans.

In Monday's letter, Governor Brown specifically laid out three (what he called) “straightforward and fair” components of his proposal:

- Millionaires and high-income earners will pay up to 2% higher income taxes for five years. No family making less than $500,000 a year will see their income taxes rise. In fact, fewer than 2% of California taxpayers will be affected by this increase.

- There will be a temporary 1/2 cent increase in the sales tax. Even with this temporary increase, sales taxes will still be lower than what they were less than six months ago.

- This initiative dictates funding only to education and public safety- not to other programs.

Brown conceded that the initiative doesn’t solve all of the state’s fiscal problems, but claims that it will stop more cuts to education and public safety. As a result of recent budget cuts, the Governor says that funding for schools and universities have been cut by 25%.

Nicolas Berggruen, chair of the Think Long Committee for California, echoed a similar sentiment of moving past political gridlock in touting his own tax proposal- one focused on taxing services to generate revenue.

“A dispiriting gridlock continues to grip Washington and Sacramento, undermining the public’s faith that democracy can solve our problems. As we write, the so-called supercommittee of Congress, convened to figure a way out of the nation’s fiscal crisis, remains hopelessly paralyzed along familiar partisan lines. Everyone knows the sad story in Sacramento,” he said.

Berggruen’s plan also claims it will generate revenue for education. At the same time- as noted in previous coverage of Think Long- it’s been blasted by Brown’s allies at the California Teachers Association and by the California Republican Party as well.

As the proponents of these two ballot initiatives move forward in gathering support, it will be telling to see the rhetoric used by their respective supporters in defending these very measures. Will there be a rational discussion regarding which approach is more effective? Or, will more unproductive, partisan talking points muddy the waters?  With the growing tide of non-partisan voters who want to move forward with tangible solutions, the movement that can win this key demographic will gain some serious momentum.

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