LOS ANGELES — With time running out and his odds growing longer, California Gov. Jerry Brown pleaded with voters Wednesday to support his $6 billion-a-year tax increase and warned of deep cuts unless residents send more money to Sacramento.
In sometimes uncharted remarks that included fleeting references to the bleak movie "Blade Runner" and Nobel Prize-winning author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Brown said residents face a stark choice with Proposition 30 — invest in the future or sap its potential.
"Believe in California," the Democratic governor said at a forum organized by Town Hall Los Angeles, a civic group. With the additional investment from taxpayers, he said, "California will shine."
Tuesday's election amounts to a critical test for Brown's leadership 11 months into his first year in office, and he acknowledges the race is tight.
The proposal has been slipping in polls, hovering near or dipping below the 50 percent mark needed for passage — a troubling sign since support for tax proposals tends to slide as Election Day nears.
Anxiety is rising among Democrats, though they see Brown as a savvy campaigner who's run for offices as varied as Oakland mayor and president.
"I think a tax increase, whether in good times or bad, is always a challenge," said Democratic consultant Roger Salazar. "There is hope Jerry will do what Jerry always does, which is rally folks to get this thing passed."
The proposition would gather an estimated $6 billion annually by boosting the sales tax a quarter cent for four years, while raising income taxes for seven years on people making more than $250,000 annually.
It's a tough sell.
In a state with a struggling economy and double-digit unemployment, the governor is asking voters to raise their own taxes and send the money to the widely unpopular Sacramento statehouse. Polls show most Californians cringe at state government after witnessing years of runaway deficits, legislative gridlock, and headlines about reckless spending and pension abuses.
If approved, the tax boost could be one of many for residents around the state. In Los Angeles, for example, one proposal would slap taxpayers with an additional half-cent sales tax, lifting the rate to 9.25 percent, as City Hall wrestles with soaring pension and retiree health care costs.
Brown has been pitching the plan as a way to guarantee funding for schools.
"It's either money into the schools, or money out," he said Wednesday in arguing for support of the proposition.
However, while some of the money raised would go toward education, it also would free up billions of dollars for the state's general fund, meaning the Democratic-controlled Legislature could spend it on health care, pensions or other programs.
At different points Wednesday, he suggested that passage of the tax increase could free up other funds for mental illness programs or state courts. "It would be much better if 30 passes," he said, referring to courtroom budgets.