Debra J. Saunders
California Gov. Jerry Brown likes to talk about "loyalty to California." For Brown, that means that public people should put aside their partisan interests to do what is best for the Golden State.

Last week, Brown failed his own loyalty test. He agreed to a deal to put a tax increase measure on the November ballot when he has to know that the new measure would exacerbate California's dysfunctional finances.

Brown's been trying to get a measure on the ballot ever since he was elected. This year, he proposed a "temporary" tax increase measure for the November ballot. The five-year Brown plan would have increased the sales tax by a half-cent while raising income taxes by 1 percent for single earners making more than $250,000 and by 2 percent for families earning more than $1 million.

Californians already pay the highest sales tax in the country. Only Hawaii has a higher income tax rate for the affluent -- 11 percent, compared with 10.3 percent in California. Given the state's heavy tax burden and voters' 2-1 rejection of a similar measure in 2009, it does not seem likely voters would have passed Brown's Plan A -- except that it had two virtues.

One: In raising the sales tax, Brown would have made all Californians share some of the burden.

Two: Brown's original plan would not have been nearly so problematic as the two other measures vying for the November ballot.

The California Federation of Teachers was pushing a "millionaires tax," which would have increased tax rates on those earning $1 million by an additional 3 percent and would have raised rates an extra 5 percent for those earning $2 million or more.

Yes, that's popular, but as Brown recently told the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board, CFT-style hikes are bad tax policy, as they add to Sacramento's "roller coaster" of fat years in boom times followed by lean years when the economy goes bust. (Besides, it's not as if the rich aren't paying taxes. In 2007, the top 1 percent of earners paid 48 percent of state income taxes; in 2009, the top 1 percent paid 37 percent.)

Civil rights attorney Molly Munger has been pushing a third measure to raise income taxes on all Californians who earn more than $7,316. Munger's plan doesn't have the volatility problem, but it's hard to imagine voters approving it.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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