SACRAMENTO — After returning to the governor's office, Jerry Brown criticized a political culture he said lacked a common purpose and warned of a "war of all against all" unless the sniping camps learned to compromise and fix California's persistent budget problems.
Those efforts failed, and now the Democratic governor finds himself fighting his own political battle as he tries to persuade voters to pass a $6 billion tax increase on the November ballot that he says is crucial for closing the state's deficit.
With the election just a month away, Brown's initiative to boost the statewide sales tax by a quarter-cent and income taxes for those earning $250,000 a year or more is in jeopardy, primarily due to a wealthy brother and sister who are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, and Brown's own missteps.
The political slugfest is bad news for Brown's Proposition 30 and a competing tax initiative from Molly Munger, a liberal-leaning Los Angeles civil rights attorney who is the daughter of a billionaire executive for Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.
She has spent $34 million so far in support of Proposition 38, which would raise about $10 billion a year through a broadly based income tax increase and send the revenue directly to school districts, bypassing the Legislature.
Her brother, Stanford physicist Charles Munger Jr., is a conservative who has poured more than $20 million of his fortune into a committee aimed at defeating Brown's ballot initiative and supporting a separate initiative targeting public employee unions.
The attacks from both Mungers have so angered Brown's Democratic allies that they issued a statement saying they would become known as "the millionaires who destroyed California's schools and universities."
California initiative campaigns are often exercises in excessive spending, but this fight is unusual because much of it is taking place between Democratically aligned interests seeking to accomplish essentially the same thing — restoring funding to California schools after years of budget cuts.
Teachers unions back Brown's initiative and the state PTA is aligned with Molly Munger.
The public sniping is erupting just as vote-by-mail ballots are being sent to California's 17 million registered voters.
"When California voters are in doubt, when they're confused about initiatives, they tend to vote no. What this direct hit by Munger on Prop. 30 can do is confuse voters. Perhaps both 30 and 38 go down," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior fellow at the University of Southern California's School of Policy, Planning and Development.
Brown's tax initiative already faced an uphill struggle after a summer of unfavorable headlines and major spending decisions, including revelations that the state parks department was hiding $54 million and the Legislature had given out pay raises to staffers at a time of deep budget cuts.
Brown also approved plans for a $68 billion high-speed rail system with waning public support and promoted a $24 billion water tunnel project that has strong opposition in Northern California.
California also has one of the nation's highest unemployment rate and, recently, its highest gasoline prices.