SAN FRANCISCO — Gov. Jerry Brown called on teachers Saturday to protect their classrooms by helping him pass a tax increase on the November ballot with a final three-week push.
The Democratic governor told about 100 union members that he needed their help for what he called the "difficult campaign" to stave off $6 billion in automatic spending cuts to schools by passing Proposition 30.
"We don't have too many days left and we need everyone," he said at a morning news conference at the San Francisco headquarters of Local 1021 of the Service Employees International Union, which was adorned with "Tax the Rich" signs.
The event kicks off a weekend of canvassing and phone banking by the 325,000-member California Teachers Association in 25 cities from San Diego to Chico.
Brown spoke principally about the tax measure, which would boost the state sales tax by a quarter cent for four years and raise income taxes for seven years on those who make more than $250,000 annually. But the semicircle of teachers standing behind him cheered loudest when he mentioned the importance of defeating Proposition 32, which would prohibit the way unions raise money for political activity.
For most of the campaign season, labor activists have been focused on this initiative, which they say constitutes an existential threat because it would ban their use of paycheck deductions.
Now union leaders say they will turn their attention to Proposition 30, which has been flagging in public opinion polls. On Saturday, teachers held signs promoting both measures and spoke about the cutbacks they've seen over the past several years.
Betty Robinson-Harris said she was planning to spend the afternoon knocking on doors for Brown because students cannot bear to lose more days of school because of furloughs.
"The public has to know and buy in because the children's education is at stake," said the 59 year-old early education teacher.
Brown appeared in high spirits, joking with the crowd and doing call and response with them listing positions the tax hike might fund, from arts programs to librarians. When his cellphone interrupted him with an eerie science fiction ring tone, Brown riffed on his "Governor Moonbeam" nickname and said, "This is a message from outer space."
Brown held rallies at Los Angeles and Sacramento colleges last week, his first public appearances since August in support of the measure he has called his chief priority for the year.
By that point, the initiative had already been under assault for two weeks by Molly Munger, a wealthy civil rights attorney who is funding a rival tax initiative backed by the state PTA, and Munger's brother, a Republican who has contributed millions of dollars to a committee trying to defeat Proposition 30.
Molly Munger promoted her measure, Proposition 38, on Saturday afternoon at the United Latinos Voter Education Forum in Sacramento.
She spoke about her experience attending Pasadena public schools at a time when California led the nation in student spending, and said that while some voters might choose to support both tax initiatives, only hers would significantly increase school funding without resorting to a sales tax.