SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown sought to persuade college students on Thursday to support his November tax measure, telling them a quarter-cent increase in the state sales tax and higher income taxes on the wealthy are a small price to pay for a more stable state budget and secure higher education funding.
Putting it in everyday terms, the Democratic governor told about 100 students at Sacramento City College that Proposition 30 asks for a small sacrifice — about a penny on a $4 deli sandwich — from most Californians. But it asks the most from the state's wealthiest people, who would pay higher income taxes on a sliding scale for annual incomes greater than $250,000.
"I bet anyone here would be glad to pay 3 percent if you could make $1 million," an energetic Brown said to loud cheers. "That's all it is, that's all it is. It is fair, it's needed and it's balanced."
Fees and tuition at community colleges, the California State University and the University of California have risen dramatically during the recession, as state aid has been reduced. Course offerings also have been reduced, forcing students to remain in school longer to get their degrees.
The event was the governor's second appearance on a campus this week and was part of the kick-off to his public campaign for the initiative, which he has called his top priority. Likely voters have indicated only moderate support for the initiative so far, and that was before opposition groups began airing ads against it.
Brown said Proposition 30 will help California balance its budget after years of cuts to schools, higher education, health care and social service programs. If voters reject it, the budget the governor signed over the summer calls for $6 billion in automatic spending cuts, mostly to schools.
Opponents of Proposition 30 point out that the revenue to be raised will go to the state general fund. Lawmakers and Brown then could decide to spend it on a variety of state programs in addition to education.
David Wolfe, legislative director for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which opposes Proposition 30, said Brown was belittling the plight of many ordinary Californians by dismissing the sales tax portion of Proposition 30 as just a small price to pay.
"It is discouraging that the governor would say that a quarter cent sales tax increase, on top of a tax that is already the highest in the nation, is minimal," Wolfe said. "It's not minimal when you have a 10.8 percent unemployment rate with 2 million Californians out of work and 4 million underemployed."
The sales tax would last for four years, while the higher income taxes on the wealthy would remain for seven.
The Democratic governor had attempted to neutralize any opposition by courting business groups, many of which have remained neutral on his initiative. Yet it has come under attack in recent weeks from two wealthy siblings who are at opposite ends of the political spectrum.
Republican Charles Munger Jr. has poured millions into a campaign to defeat Proposition 30 and support a separate initiative to limit the political clout of unions in California. The donations from the Stanford physicist gave life to an opposition campaign that previously could afford little more than radio ads.