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The battle over tax proposals hits the airwaves

March 19, 2012 |  6:14 pm

Our Children Our Future ad 1
The secretary of state gave proponents of Gov. Jerry Brown's revised tax proposal the green light Monday to begin collecting the 807,615 signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot. The same day, supporters of a rival tax initiative started airing a TV commercial touting their proposal as the only one that sends more funding straight to schools.

Game on!

The ad comes from Our Children, Our Future, an organization backed by the California PTA and Molly Munger, a wealthy civil rights attorney. OCOF's initiative would increase the state's personal income tax rate by 0.4 percentage points (for the lowest taxable income bracket) to 2.2 percentage points (for the highest) through 2024.

The proposal is a potential thorn in the side of Brown, who has been maneuvering to rid the ballot of rival income tax proposals. Brown revised his initiative last week to persuade the California Federation of Teachers to drop efforts to qualify its own proposal, which called for a surtax on millionaires to raise billions of dollars for education.

Munger and the PTA, who have until July 16 to collect 504,760 signatures from registered voters, seem to be doubling down, not backing out. OCOF spokesman Addisu Demissie said the group started airing ads in Los Angeles and the Bay Area on Monday to support the signature drive; he declined to say how many John Hancocks the group had collected thus far.

Although the group's commercial wouldn't make the Negative Advertising Hall of Fame, it portends just the sort of contest that Brown had hoped to avoid. According to several observers, polls show that support for a tax increase is strongest if the revenue is used solely to improve California schools. The OCOF commercial doesn't call out Brown's initiative by name, but it gives voters a reason not to support it -- even if they believe taxes are too low.

The ad also amounts to a sort of political jujutsu. From a budgetary perspective, a strongpoint of Brown's initiative is that it would make more money available for a variety of programs in addition to schools. But many voters don't trust Sacramento to spend money responsibly -- for good reason. That's why there's more support for a measure that would be dedicated to a specific, widely shared goal -- improving schools -- than for a measure to improve schools and narrow the state's budget gap.

Granted, the OCOF initiative isn't entirely pure on that score either. In the first four years, 40% of the revenue would be used to pay down the debt on school bonds and other state securities, which would help narrow the budget gap or free up money for other programs. After that, all of the additional tax money raised by the initiative would be dedicated to public schools and preschool programs. The initiative also dictates that the new tax dollars be additional revenue for education, not replacements for the funds already provided by state law.

In case you missed it on TV, here's the OCOF ad, courtesy of YouTube:


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Photo: An ad from Our Children, Our Future. Credit: YouTube.com

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