News reports that Gov. Jerry Brown is considering a ballot initiative on taxes if he cannot secure Republican votes to put taxes on a June special election confirm whispers that have been circulating for a couple of weeks. Plan B for Brown’s budget would go directly to the people to raise taxes.
While there is still talk of Brown using a suspect alternative of seeking a majority vote in the legislature to amend older ballot measures to get his tax plan on the June ballot, a November special election would not face legal hurdles.
Taxes appearing on a November ballot would be classified as a tax increase rather than a tax extension for the taxes under consideration expire the end of June.
Of course, the income, sales and vehicle taxes that Brown wants to extend may or may not be the subject of an initiative effort.
Brown has warned the business community that taxes on specific industries might result if his tax extension plan is not adopted. However, such a move could undercut some valuable assistance for a November initiative.
Brown’s support for his tax extension effort in June has assumed support from public labor unions. However, a report from the Sacramento Bee cited an unnamed source that the measure likely would include concessions such as regulatory reform and a spending cap.
The unions have nixed a spending cap during the current budget negotiations. Why would they support a cap as part of a November initiative?
Brown might have to turn to business interests to fund a measure that includes both taxes and a spending limit or other reforms important to the business community. But, he might then forfeit the manpower and financial support from the unions.
What ever interests support such an effort will have to front big bucks. There will be limited time to get the signatures needed for a November election.
The 150 days allowed to gather signatures could be reduced to as little as 30 days in reality to make sure the initiative qualifies by the constitutionally mandated deadline of 131 days before an election. Initiatives have gathered the necessary signatures in that short of time in the past, but the per signature cost was very high.
Seeking a simple tax increase measure that the unions would get behind could prompt the launch of other initiatives to take a spot on the same November ballot. Both the pro and anti new revenue forces have drafted, or are in the process of drafting, a number of opposing measures. Many of those potential initiatives are ready or near ready to go.
It will take strong financial backing to get any measure qualified in a short amount of time, but the resources are probably available for some major measures to move forward.
The politics of an initiative campaign, trying to find the sweet spot between business and labor, appears suspiciously like the legislative politics involved with adopting a measure for a proposed June special election.