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To Fight Prop 30, Fight the Triggers

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Opinion: To Fight Prop 30, Fight the Triggers

Prop 30, Gov. Brown's temporary tax ballot initiative, doesn't have overwhelming support. But it has persistent support. It's polling just over 50 percent in polls.

Indeed, the closer the election gets the stronger Prop 30 looks. It's even being helped by the campaign against it -- a relative weak effort that targets the tax increases in the measure.

It's not clear that the anti-tax message will be enough to beat Prop 30. Polls show that majorities of Californians are willing to raise taxes temporarily. Californians don't mind higher income taxes on the rich, which are one piece of the measure (A sales tax increase is another, less popular feature).

Californians also dislike the alternative that's been linked to Prop 30: "trigger" cuts to schools and higher education that would go into effect if Prop 30 loses. The threat of those triggers may be Prop 30's greatest asset.

Which means that, beating Prop 30 requires taking on the triggers.

The triggers are baked into the state budget. So a no campaign can't undo them. But opponents of Prop 30 could come up with alternatives to the triggers.

What alternatives? Well, there are three: 1) Different cuts to balance the budget, 2) Borrowing or gimmicks to cover the multibillion-dollar hole in the budget, 3) An alternative tax package that would raise revenues.

It's not hard to think of viable alternatives. Indeed, there are existing proposals out there -- from budget cuts to the Think Long Committee's tax proposal -- that could be alternatives. But to convince voters, opponents of Prop 30 need to build a movement so they can credibly promise. Once Prop 30 loses, we'll fight the triggers, and push to replace them with this better alternative.

This would be good policy -- the triggers would be bad for education, the most important state function. And smart politics. It would divide backers of Prop 30, and leave them with a difficult choice. Do they support the alternative? Or do they support the triggers? Many of Brown's Democratic and union backers hate the triggers, and coming out in support of them would be impossible.

So it comes to this for those who want to beat Prop 30: now is the time to come up with a better idea.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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