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Initiative Update:
New Poll Shows Lackluster Support for Governor's Tax Increase Measure, Major Opposition to Munger Plan

California voters barely support Governor Jerry Brown's sales and income tax increase initiative, according to a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, indicating that the measure could have a tough time surviving an opposition campaign.

The PPIC poll of likely voters found 54 percent in favor of the governor's tax measure, and 39 percent opposed. The initiative is still in the signature-gathering phase, and proponents have until late May to turn in signatures to meet deadlines for qualifying for the November ballot.

The poll also indicated that a rival measure sponsored by civil rights attorney Molly Munger (and also circulating for signatures) faces even longer odds. While the poll didn't specifically ask about Ms. Munger's initiative, it found that 57 percent of likely voters oppose raising income taxes on most taxpayers to generate revenue for schools, which her measure would do. Only 40 percent support the idea.

The poll indicated that 75 percent of Democrats support the governor's plan, while 65 percent of Republicans oppose it. Among likely voters who aren't registered with any party, 53 percent support the tax. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 4.3 percent, meaning the governor cannot bank on even this narrow majority of independents.

Pollsters also found that respondents were more likely to support taxes that they might not have to pay. Asked if they support an income tax hike on the wealthy, 65 percent said yes, but only 52 percent said they would support a sales tax increase that would hit all consumers. (Source: The Sacramento Bee, April 26.)

In other initiative news:

David Crane Says Tax Increase Proposed by Governor Would Go for Pensions, Not Classrooms. David Crane, former principal fiscal adviser to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, wrote in an April 12 Bloomberg op-ed: "Most Californians would be surprised to learn that 100 percent of education's share of the tax increase proposed by Governor Jerry Brown will go to pensions instead of classrooms. But that would be no surprise to longtime observers of the California State Teachers' Retirement System, which administers teacher pensions."

Mr. Crane observed that the retirement system is seeking about $4.5 billion more in retirement benefits each year from school districts. He added that the pension shortfall stems from years of the retirement board overestimating portfolio returns. Since 1999, the retirement system has earned only 60 percent of its forecasted investment return, he said.

To solve the problem, Mr. Crane outlines several steps: higher taxes, lower benefits for newer and current teachers with respect to years not yet worked, higher employee contributions and lower cost-of-living adjustments for retirees.

Los Angeles Times Opposes Proposition 29 Tobacco Tax Increase. The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times is urging Californians to vote "no" on Proposition 29, which would increase cigarette taxes $1 per pack. In an April 27 editorial, the Times wrote: "The problem with Proposition 29, which would raise $735 million a year at the outset (gradually dropping off as more smokers quit), isn't the tax but how the money it raises would be spent." The newspaper concluded that "this initiative takes perfectly good tax money and misspends it." (Source: Los Angeles Times, April 27.)

Proponents of "Three Strikes" Modification Submit Signatures. Stanford University professors and other proponents of an initiative to change California's "three strikes" sentencing law have submitted signatures for their plan, signaling that the initiative will likely appear on the November ballot. (Source: San Jose Mercury News, April 26.)

Initiative to Repeal the Death Penalty Makes the Ballot. An initiative (11-0035) that seeks to repeal the death penalty in California has qualified for the November ballot. In addition to changing the state's capital punishment laws, the initiative would earmark $30 million annually, beginning in 2013-14, from the state's general fund to local public safety officers for purposes of solving homicide and rape cases.

The initiative, drafted by Remcho, Johansen & Purcell, a prominent law firm whose past clients include public employee unions, was filed by Jeanne Woodford, executive director of Death Penalty Focus. Previously, Ms. Woodford was undersecretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation under former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and is also the former warden of San Quentin State Prison.

Proponent of Nuclear Power Ban Files Another Initiative. Ben Davis Jr., the proponent of an initiative filed last year to effectively ban nuclear power in California, has come back with a new version after missing the deadline for filing enough signatures to get his first try on the ballot. The new initiative (12-0013) was received by the state April 20, just four days after the earlier attempt failed to qualify.

Mr. Davis' website states that California's two remaining nuclear power plants must be closed as a safety precaution, and he cites recent problems in Japan as an example of what can go wrong when a natural disaster hits. The initiative would prohibit the operation of nuclear power plants until the federal government finds a solution to dispose of radioactive waste and to reprocess spent fuel rods. "Although outlawing nuclear power plants completely may be the preferable solution, this approach will effectively shut down the two currently operating plants for the foreseeable future by stopping them from creating additional nuclear waste until a federal solution arrives," Mr. Davis says on his website.

April 27, 2012
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