Candidates for Governor Clash Over Taxes

Times Staff Writer

A dusty clearing in a cornfield near Bakersfield served as center stage for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reelection campaign Tuesday morning, with tractors, hay bales and bushels of carrots as his evocative backdrop.

His Democratic challenger, state Treasurer Phil Angelides, stepped onto his own makeshift stage near Bakersfield a few hours later: the front lawn of a house with a white picket fence.

With Schwarzenegger in cowboy boots, Angelides in loafers, the two clashed over taxes on competing campaign swings through the San Joaquin Valley on Tuesday. The day’s topic, the governor’s favorite, underscored the edge that Schwarzenegger has gained in the summer warm-up to the fall campaign.


“Angelides represents more taxes and punishing the people of California,” Schwarzenegger told farmers and other supporters as they shooed flies under a blazing sun at Bolthouse Farms in Buttonwillow.

In remarks echoed by leaders of the state Farm Bureau Federation and other agriculture groups, Schwarzenegger said his rival would increase taxes “on farm equipment and on diesel fuel used by farmers and by ranchers just like you.”

“The other side has called even a tax-relief for tractors and farm equipment, and I quote, a tax loophole -- a corporate tax loophole,” Schwarzenegger said, adding that farm owners and workers “deserve good policy, not cheap politics.”

To drive home the point, his campaign dispatched two green and yellow John Deere tractors to the quiet residential street where Angelides spoke from a stool to supporters on folding chairs. Signs on the front of each tractor read: “Don’t Tax Me.”

Angelides pointed to the tractors and called them props to hide Schwarzenegger’s “real agenda of standing up for the special interests.”

“He’s the one who’s defending every corporate interest loophole around,” Angelides said.

He told the group he would cut taxes on families making less than $100,000 a year, but raise taxes for “multimillionaires” and “big corporations.” He renewed his pledge to roll back college and university fee hikes that took effect under Schwarzenegger, and said the governor had “raised park fees for all the people who don’t have vacation homes in this state -- millions of Californians.”

“Look, there’s a big difference here,” he said. “The governor’s willing to stand with any big corporation -- Exxon Mobil, the biggest farming corporation in the world -- but he won’t lift a finger to help middle-class families like Renee.”

On a stool to the candidate’s left was Renee Nelson, a land-use planner who lives in the modest house where Angelides was campaigning. On a stool to his right was Dolores Huerta, a United Farm Workers union founder who said the farm owners who back Schwarzenegger had fought against toilets and drinking water in the fields for crop pickers.

“You go right down the line, they’ve taken the most negative positions on labor from Day One,” she said.

Schwarzenegger and Angelides also took their dueling messages to Fresno, where each campaigned Tuesday.

For Angelides, the Bakersfield and Fresno areas are tough terrain. He is counting on strong support in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas to offset Schwarzenegger’s presumed advantage in the Central Valley, Inland Empire and Orange County. A Field Poll last month found that likely voters in the Central Valley favor Schwarzenegger over Angelides, 49% to 40%.

Also difficult for Angelides is the issue of taxes, Schwarzenegger’s central line of attack in a state notorious for anti-tax fervor. Angelides has proposed $3 billion in income-tax increases for Californians who make more than $250,000 a year and $2 billion in corporate tax hikes to be determined by a commission. But Schwarzenegger has added those to other tax hikes Angelides has advocated over the years and said his rival would impose $18 billion in new taxes, which Angelides denies.

To try to change the terms of debate last week, Angelides proposed $1.4 billion in tax cuts, mainly for middle-income families and small businesses. Since then, he has used the plan to sharpen his effort to define Schwarzenegger as a tool of corporate campaign donors and himself as a champion of the middle class.

“It’s fairly important for Angelides to try to define himself on the issue, and not let himself be defined by Schwarzenegger’s political machine,” said Bruce Cain, director of UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies.

On Tuesday, Schwarzenegger and his allies zeroed in on farm taxes that Angelides has proposed raising. As Schwarzenegger stood behind a stack of carrot bushels, orange grower Philip LoBue of the California Citrus Mutual trade group mocked Angelides for calling a tax break on tractors a “loophole.”

When asked whether that tax break was one he would target, Angelides said: “I’ll leave it to the commission to determine if they think this one ought to be closed or not.” He also described himself as “interested in helping a family farm.”

“Am I interested in helping a billion-dollar-a-year corporation just because they’re involved in farming? I don’t think so.”