Monday, March 26, 2012
Gov. Brown's tax-the-rich pitch looks like a winner
— Paul Whitefield
Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at a news conference at a Boeing plant in Long Beach. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times
Californians don’t actually hate taxes. They just don’t want to pay taxes.
No, that’s not a contradiction. As my colleague Anthony York reported in Sunday’s Times:
California voters strongly support Gov. Jerry Brown's new proposal to increase the sales tax and raise levies on upper incomes to help raise money for schools and balance the state's budget, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.
Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said they supported the governor's measure, which he hopes to place on the November ballot. It would hike the state sales tax by a quarter-cent per dollar for the next four years and create a graduated surcharge on incomes of more than $250,000 that would last seven years. A third of respondents opposed the measure.
Brown's new plan, rewritten recently amid pressure from liberal activist and union groups that had a competing proposal, relies on a larger share of revenue from upper-income earners than his original measure. Correspondingly, it leans less upon sales taxes, which are paid by all California consumers. The poll shows that taxing high earners is overwhelmingly popular.
You see: Californians aren’t opposed to tax increases — as long as it is someone else being taxed.
You want to raise my taxes? Over my dead body!
You want to raise taxes on the rich? As Oliver Twist might say, “More please.”
Or, as The Times story said:
"These poll results illustrate that Brown was very smart to put together this initiative the way he did," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.
Well, yes. Go ahead with all those “Gov. Moonbeam” jokes if you want, but Brown is no dummy. The state needs money. Republicans in the Legislature act as if raising taxes violates one of the Ten Commandments. Californians believe, wrongly, that they are taxed to death (or rightly, that the Legislature needs to get a grip on how it spends tax dollars).
The solution? Pick on the rich. Because here’s what that strategy buys you:
Shirley Karns, 74, an independent voter from the Northern California town of Lakeport who backs the governor's new plan, said the wealthy should pay more.
"Those who have an unbelievable amount more than those who do not should contribute more," she said. "And on the sales tax, the more you buy, the more you pay. It's pretty tough on low-income people who have to pay an extra nickel here and there, but we've got to get the money from somewhere."
Shirley, we can safely assume, does not qualify for membership in the California millionaires club. (Nor, apparently, does she buy a lot of big-ticket items.)
Of course, these are just poll results. Poll results don’t matter as much as what happens when people step into that private little place called a voting booth. (See: L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley, governor’s race, 1982.)
But with the state’s education system crumbling, its infrastructure eroding and its budget bathed in red ink, a tax increase certainly appears to be at least one part of the solution.
And here’s betting that most Californians will agree in November — especially if they’re not the ones who’ll feel the pain.