SAN FRANCISCO -- Stumping for his beleaguered tax-hike measure, Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday offered not only a passionate defense of Proposition 30, but also of California itself, calling it "the greatest place in the world."
Underscoring how closely the measure's success or failure might parallel his own popularity and legacy, Brown told a capacity crowd at the Commonwealth Club of California that he already has achieved significant government cutbacks by realigning the prison system; striking a deal on public workers' pensions; reforming welfare; eliminating or cutting state agencies -- and more.
Brown said his own office has cut its budget by 25 percent, quipping: "The rug's falling apart; I'm eating day-old tuna sandwiches."
He rejected any notion that California is a failed state, saying failed states don't create 300,000 jobs, as California has in recent years -- and aren't home to the world's greatest technology innovators.
His years at a Catholic seminary taught him to study his own flaws endlessly, he joked, but "California in addition to erring has made some fabulous decisions, and our collective will ... will not be slowed by the skeptics, the declinists and those fearful individuals who can't see where they are: the greatest place in the world."
The question remains whether enough voters will see Proposition 30 as the key to maintaining that. With scant days remaining, polls show "yes" votes outnumbering "no" votes, but still not rising above 50 percent -- and that's calculus for an Election Day nail-biter.
Proposition 30 would impose a quarter-cent sales tax increase for four years and income-tax increases for seven years for those who make more than $250,000 a year. If it doesn't pass, this year's budget requires $6 billion in automatic trigger cuts to K-12 and higher education.
Hear him now and believe him later, Brown seemed to be saying: Those cuts will happen.
"The cuts are in the budget, the law of California; they cannot be changed unless the Legislature wants to change it and the governor signs the bill -- and I won't sign the bill," Brown vowed. "You can take that to the bank."
Proposition 30 poses to voters "not only a political question, not only an economic question -- we face a moral question," Brown said. "Those who've done the best -- can't they help us in California's time of need?"
Asked whether Proposition 38 -- a competing tax measure by wealthy civil-rights attorney Molly Munger that would raise tax rates for most income-tax payers on a sliding scale -- would be fairer, Brown said that it isn't, "given what has occurred over the past 30 years."
He noted California's top 1 percent of earners in the 1970s took home about 10 percent of the state's income. In recent years, he said, they have taken home 22 percent.
Brown tried to correct what he said are myths and lies about Proposition 30: It will not affect gas prices, it will sunset at the stated times, and the money is strictly earmarked for schools.
He also said there's "no empirical evidence to suggest higher-income people will move out of state" if their income taxes are raised for several years.
"That," he said, "is a canard."