Last week, I mentioned California Gov. Jerry Brown's state of the state address, which argued for more moderate approach to education and investments into infrastructure like high-speed rail. Perhaps most shocking, however, is that Brown's plan calls for some slight tax increases. And since California requires voters to approve such increases, Brown is embarking on a campaign around the state to convince people it might not be such a bad idea. In the world of political strategy, this sounds ludicrous.
Except that it just might work. A poll from the Public Policy Institute of California shows over 68 percent of California likely voters support Brown's tax proposal. And it's not just Democrats; 65 percent of Republicans favor the governor's plan.
Brown's plan to wallop the well off—individuals earning $250,000, couples making $500,000—pleases the middle class. Raising the sales tax, the governor hopes, will neutralize the business lobby, which mostly fears higher levies on specific industries, such as oil.
Threatening schools with nearly $5 billion in cuts if the tax hike isn't approved—a threat that apparently isn't idle—seems to worry almost everyone.
Across the country, states have faced serious budget crises, opting to make major cuts to education and healthcare or rely on accounting tricks rather than even discuss raising taxes. Taxes, it's been assumed for the past few years, will only lead to angry voters and calls of socialism. To push for a tax increase, it seems, is to commit political suicide. Cuts, we're told, are the only way to deal with a budget crisis.
But there seems to be a limit. Californians have already watched their state's budget get hacked to pieces, and evidently people aren't ready to say good bye to school funding. Brown is hardly a fiscal liberal, and he's framed the tax initiative as a question of priorities. If his tax plan fails, he's explained, it will trigger automatic cuts to public education. 75 percent of likely voters oppose those cuts. If Brown succeeds in his mission, it may call into question why lawmakers, particularly Democrats, in so many other states have been unwilling to vocally support raising taxes as an alternative to defunding key public programs.
In the mean time, we'll see if Jerry Brown can seal the deal.