Calif. liberals say tax-hiking Prop. 30 could be model for U.S.

<i> This post has been corrected. See below for details. </i>

Activists from about 70 liberal organizations convened in Los Angeles on Thursday to celebrate their victory in a pair of state ballot fights.

Leaders suggested that the approval of Proposition 30 signaled a shifting tide of popular opinion in favor of expanded government, properly targeted, and that defeat of Proposition 32, which would have stopped payroll deductions that unions use to fund their political efforts, affirmed respect for worker’s rights.

The success of Prop. 30, the income and sales tax measure to fund California’s schools, bucked a long trend of voters rejecting higher taxes to pay for public services. Labor, immigrant and other groups came together in the Reclaim California’s Future campaign to help pass the measure. Members of those groups and other progressive said they believed the win could signal shifting trends nationally, not just in California.


“Grover Norquist has been leading the party of ‘no’ for years,” said Rick Jacobs, chair of the Courage Campaign, a network of progressive organizations, and a member of the pro-Prop. 30 coalition, referring to the anti-tax crusader. “We just saw California say ‘yes’ to raising taxes for schools and ‘yes’ to preserving the voice of labor.”

Several of the Reclaim leaders said in an interview that their efforts helped reverse the conventional wisdom that voters would kill any tax measure. They credited the victory with a massive campaign to get low-frequency voters to the polls, showing them the benefits of tax measures projected to bring the state $6 billion in additional revenue each year.

Groups like Mobilize the Immigrant Vote, the California Teacher’s Assn. and the Courage Campaign coordinated closely, dividing up the electorate so they did not duplicate efforts and targeting minority groups and students, among others.

They explained how raising the sales tax a quarter-cent for four years and increasing levies on top income earners by 1 to 3 percentage points for seven years would forestall another year of huge budget slashing in Sacramento.

The immigrant voting organization reached voters with fliers in five languages and tailored to specific cultures, said Martha Figueroa of Mobilize the Immigrant Vote. Immigrant parents who see California as a land of opportunity were particularly sensitive to the threat that a Prop. 30 loss would mean further cuts in schools, Figueroa said.

Gov. Jerry Brown, the headline supporter of the measure, has cautioned that political leaders need to go slowly and not push additional taxes or spending too aggressively. He called for “the prudence of Joseph” because of fiscal challenges that still face the state.


Many of the groups assembled in Los Angeles this week, meeting at the headquarters of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, sounded a more ambitious note. While they don’t have a specific plan for additional state programs, some were thinking big.

“We need to be thinking, ‘What would Pat Brown do?’ ” said Jacobs, referring to the current governor’s father, known as the builder of much of the state infrastructure and educational system. “I don’t know. But there needs to be a bigger vision.”

Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, said unions had learned in recent years that they have trouble winning when they work alone and focus solely on “bargaining table” issues. The victory for Prop. 30 showed, he said, what can be accomplished when labor teams with other progressive organizations.

“Now it’s clear we have to have an alliance,” Pechthalt said. “If we are fighting more broadly for all our cousins, for the people down the block, then we have more power.”

He said the ballot measures passage had already led to restoration of furlough days in public schools. That pleases teachers, who had to compress more curricula into a shorter and shorter calendar, Pechthalt said.

The CFT president said such improvements were enough for teachers, at least for now. As the state economy and government treasury continue to rebound, he said teachers would be in a better position to press for long-delayed salary increases.


[For the Record, 10:39 a.m. Dec. 7: An earlier version of this post identified Joshua Pechthalt as president of the California Teachers Assn. He is president of the California Federation of Teachers. An earlier version also described the Courage Campaign as a “gay rights oriented” organization. It is actually a more broadly focused network of progressive organizations.]

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