SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown officially opened his Proposition 30 campaign for tax hikes Wednesday by saying it's a simple choice for voters: ask the "privileged and most blessed" people of the state to give back a little or watch three weeks disappear from the school year and a half billion be taken from colleges and universities.
"To those who much has been given, much will be required," Brown said at a rally at the New Technology High School in Sacramento. "I quote Luke in the gospels and what was good 2,000 years ago is good today."
The governor's tax measure would hike income taxes on couples making $500,000 or more for seven years, while also boosting the sales tax by a quarter cent for four years. Schools would be cut by $5.5 billion, and colleges and universities another $500 million if voters reject the initiative in November.
Brown took issue with the idea that voters will frown on his tax measure because of recent controversies such as the $54 million that was hidden away in the state Parks and Recreation accounts, the center of attention at the Capitol since the story broke last month and the subject of a legislative hearing Wednesday.
Tax opponents said voters won't buy what they said are scare tactics from the governor.
Polls, however, show that voters have consistently backed raising taxes on the wealthy, and Brown said he's heard the same.
"I've gone throughout California and asked people if I could give you a salary next year of $1 million, would you be willing to pay another $4,500 in taxes?" Brown said. "I've not met one person who would turn down that deal."
Meanwhile, attorney Molly Munger on Tuesday dropped another $5 million of her own money into her campaign, the competing tax measure, Proposition 38, to bring her total to $10 million. The campaign has already spent nearly $8 million -- much on television advertising in the spring -- draining its wallet to all but $130,000 before she replenished it. Her measure would raise taxes on all but the very poor, with the wealthiest taking the biggest hit, raising $10 billion a year for 12 years for schools.
Brown's campaign has $7 million cash on hand, boosted recently by a $1 million contribution from the California Nurses Association. But just as he faced in his 2010 gubernatorial campaign against billionaire Republican Meg Whitman, Brown may not be able to keep pace with Munger.
"I think it's so simple, that people will arrive at (a decision) whatever the advertising," he said.
A spokesman for Proposition 38 noted that the school where Brown chose to hold his rally would get more than twice the amount under Proposition 38 than Prop 30 -- $336,000 to $145,000 -- in 2013-2014. And by the end of the 10-year tax under Proposition 38, New Tech High would get $791,000 and none from Proposition 30, because the tax would be retired.
"By staging a news conference at New Technology High School today, backers of Proposition 30 are trying to persuade voters that their measure is good for public schools," Prop 38 spokesman Nathan Ballard said. "It's good stagecraft, but in reality, Prop. 38 is better for public schools than Prop. 30."
Brown countered that his measure is the only one that will save schools from massive cuts this year.
The governor has repeatedly called for legislators to approve his 12-point plan to roll back state pensions as a signal to voters that Sacramento is getting its act together. But he appeared to lower his sights Wednesday.
"I hope to do as much as I can, and you'll find out probably in the next week or so how much we get," he said. "The bottom line is whatever we can get, we'll get, and whatever we don't get here, we'll get somewhere else. So one way or the other, we'll get it."
Dave Low, chairman of a union coalition studying pension reform and lobbyist for the California School Employees Association, attended the rally. He said he was mystified that he hadn't heard of any talks between labor groups and legislators with only a week or so to go before the end of the session.