Page 4 of 6
Brown's measure would hike the state sales tax for four years by one-quarter of a cent, making California's the nation's highest and bringing in $1 billion or so annually. The plan also would boost income taxes for seven years for the roughly 150,000 people among California's 37.7 million residents who earn more than $250,000 annually. The narrowly focused income tax would produce a highly unpredictable pot of annual money estimated at perhaps $5 billion — but that's give or take a billion, or more.
A whiff of panic has set in among high-powered proponents of Proposition 30 such as teachers unions and county governments, who are relying on the tax hike's passage. In October, the governor finally began appearing at rallies at UCLA and other public universities to warn students that, if the measure fails, young people will suffer further tuition hikes.
Then, in mid-October, after Munger announced on NBC4 Los Angeles that she was about to air a TV commercial that would "compare and contrast" Proposition 38 with Proposition 30, Democratic heavyweights, including the president of the State Board of Education, the California Teachers Association and Steinberg, sent Munger a highly unusual warning letter, telling her to "rethink this destructive course of action."
Republican consultant Jonathan Wilcox, who was involved in the campaign to recall Gov. Gray Davis, found the warning letter sent to Munger "incoherent and panicked. ... They keep hitting the mute button, but Molly Munger is still talking."
Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which has spent $440,000 attacking Brown's tax proposal, says, "It does not surprise us that the simmering war between the two camps broke into the open. Did Jerry or Anne ever think that Molly would back down? I don't think so. The snippy communication from Darrell Steinberg was incredible. And Molly's response was, 'Thank you for providing us with strategy [suggestions] but we'll go our own road.' That is a big 'fuck you' to Jerry Brown."
Indeed, Munger promptly began running her 31-second campaign ad — and it was a mild one. The most controversial moment of the colorful, childlike animation is a two-second depiction of money flowing from a schoolhouse into politicians' hands.
Brown's camp began pulling in serious favors to get Munger's ad yanked off the air. Munger soon heard from her key endorser, the California State PTA, asking her to pull the ad, and from her close political friend, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who asked the same.
Munger let the ad run for a week, getting widespread media coverage and sharing the one message Brown's team most feared — that the Legislature will get its hands on the governor's new tax revenue.
"The thing that concerns us most this year is that our schools are 47th in the nation [in funding, by some measures] and we have lost a third of our early-childhood education system," a defiant Munger says. "And it's really worrisome that we might have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix that, and that we wouldn't try to do it."
Outside the cavernous auditorium at Charles W. Eliot Middle School in Altadena, mothers huddle in groups of three or four, talking about their kids and waiting for Munger to arrive. Some wear "Yes on 38" buttons, but many of them plan to vote for both Proposition 30 and Proposition 38.
"We need more money at the schools," says Becky Thyre, whose daughter attends Eliot Middle School. "We need to turn everything around. The budget cuts are just ridiculous."
She adds, "I don't see why it has to be a choice between the two. We need at least one of them."
Barbara Pettit, another Eliot Middle School mom, says, "We just need to invest more in our schools. Education is a right, and should be available to all."
Both mothers say their friends are not talking about, and don't even know about, the two big tax measures on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Susan Schwartz, a parent activist and member of the Pasadena Education Network, worries, "If we fail our public schools, then we fail our middle class. If our middle class fails, we're on our way to being a Third World country."
At this auditorium, which can hold hundreds, 40 or 50 people show up. In a dark gray power suit, Munger takes the parents through a PowerPoint presentation. It could have been an incredibly boring affair, but Munger talks with an easy confidence and a practical intelligence that keeps the parents interested. She seems made to order to run for public office herself.
Volunteers hand out small pencils and slips of paper for the parents to write their questions. Munger, who seems to prefer informality, tries to wave them off. "I don't think we need to do all this," she says.
Several parents want to know if Munger's proposed tax revenues can be raided by the state Legislature. "If legislators start to play with Proposition 38, someone would be suing about it," Munger responds, then pauses for a beat. "And you're looking at her." The crowd erupts with claps and a few hearty laughs.