Molly Munger's Prop. 38 Is Spoiling Jerry Brown's Prop. 30. She's Not Sorry. 

Her husband Steve English and the Advancement Project fuel her toughness

Thursday, Oct 25 2012

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Under Munger's measure, people would pay 0.4 percent on taxable earnings of $7,600, equaling a few dollars per year in new taxes for very low earners. But it would rise to 2.2 percent for those with taxable earnings of more than $2.5 million. Munger estimates that those earning $1 million and up** would pay an average of $77,000; somebody earning $25,000 to $50,000 would pay $54 or so per year.

It seems strange to some that Proposition 38 isn't doing better. Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo says the "odds are not great" for Proposition 38 to pass, and even worse given that it needs to outdo Brown's ballot measure in total vote count to survive. UCLA dean Gilliam says if he were a betting man, he "wouldn't take Proposition 38 and the points. You'd have to give me 20 points. Literally."

One Democratic Party insider in L.A. who has worked with Munger says that she can be "difficult." Because of her wealth, he says, she's used to doing things her way, and becomes inflexible when asked to do otherwise. This could help explain why her measure is not connecting with voters, even though she has tapped a political brain trust, including Mellman, former California Teachers Association honcho John Hein, former Service Employees International Union boss Dean Tipps, veteran political strategist Nathan Ballard, political consultant Andrew Acosta and 2008 Obama pollster John Anzalone.

click to flip through (3) PHOTO BY NANETTE GONZALES - Molly Munger and Steve English, at home in Pasadena: "We have a particular responsibility to give back," he says.
  • Molly Munger and Steve English, at home in Pasadena: "We have a particular responsibility to give back," he says.

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Gloria Romero, the hard-charging California director of Democrats for Education Reform, has not taken an official position on either tax measure. But the maverick Democrat, who openly criticizes teachers unions over hot-button issues such as the school districts' inability to remove bad teachers from classrooms, says Proposition 38 doesn't go far enough.

"Where is the bang for the buck?" asks Romero, who's glad Munger didn't back down to Brown but says, "There would be a greater appetite" for her tax if Munger had coupled it with serious classroom reforms.

Romero, of Los Angeles, was a powerhouse state senator as chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. She believes Proposition 38 is "more honest" than Proposition 30 because it has a transparent school-funding plan. By contrast, she says Brown's measure is being sold largely as a way to beef up school funding when it's really about filling the budget hole.

"Proposition 30 is about debt," Romero says, "and it's on the ballot because of a dysfunctional Legislature that can't pass a budget with a two-thirds vote. The whole thing is a charade, and we continue to do budgeting by the ballot box."

Parent Revolution executive director Ben Austin, a player in education reform, who backs California's "parent trigger" law, charter schools and other innovations, usually is a close ally of Romero's. But he believes Proposition 30 will prevent major cuts to public schools. "We're supporters of both measures," he says, "but in a pragmatic way, Proposition 30 has a better chance of winning."

Many folks focused on California's failing schools or classroom budget cuts don't care which measure wins — as long as one becomes law. Pasadena Unified School District board member Ed Honowitz is pulling for both, but for the long haul he favors Munger's initiative, which guarantees billions to schools over a 12-year period.

"It will have a much more significant impact on stabilizing finances and better funding education, which is something we always worry about," Honowitz says. "If neither of them pass, the impacts will be frightening."

But Wilcox, the Republican consultant, says that would be a good thing.

"If both lose, as I expect, then we might see the return of the 'real' Jerry Brown," Wilcox says. "I would be hopeful that the failures would unleash creativity, bold thinking and nontraditional coalitions — and Jerry Brown is as likely as anybody to lead those efforts. That would come more naturally to the governor than his desperate blackmail campaign that says, 'Raise your taxes — or the kids and students get it.' "

At a wooden conference table in the Echo Park offices of the Advancement Project, Munger sits down to explain her vision. No personal assistant or press aide is attending her, although she has both. She speaks without notes, and with a perpetual smile that seems to work as a shield when questions get too personal.

"This isn't about me," Munger says. "It's not about Jerry Brown the person. It's about the governor but in a more abstract way."

"I try to ignore it," she says of the increasingly conflict-oriented media coverage of the two competing tax measures. "Totally, I just try to ignore it."

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