The Three Numbers You’ll Hear This Fall: 38 – 39 – 40

Brown Unger
Gov. Jerry Brown/Molly Unger

UPDATE: This article was orginally posted Monday, before the ballot numbering process was changed by a budget trailer bill that places constitutional amendments, such as Gov. Brown's initiative, ahead of other measures on the ballot. On Friday, June 29, a Sacramento judge blocked the numbering of all ballot measures because of a legal challenge by backers of a measure that is a competitor to Brown's.

Read: Should Constitutional Amendments Go First on Ballot?

Orginal Post Begins Here: 

"No on 38, 39 and 40!"

"Yes on 38! No on 39!"

"Yes on 38! And Yes on 40!"

"No on 38! Yes on 39! Yes on 40!"

Whatever you think about taxes and the three tax-raising ballot initiatives that have qualified for the November ballot, you should get ready to hear a lot -- probably more than you want to -- of three numbers, 38, 39, and 40.

We won't know for sure until the California Secretary of State numbers the ballot. But if previous precedent holds, and the Secretary of State numbers the ballot in the order in which measures qualified (and there's a hot rumor that Gov. Jerry Brown's team was trying to change the usual order), then the three tax initiatives would appear on the ballot together.

Brown's measure to temporarily raise taxes on sales and on the income of rich folks to raise money for the budget -- an initiative which mysteriously qualified before the other two, even though its signatures were turned in later than those of the other two -- would be Prop 38.

Civil rights attorney Molly Munger's initiative, to temporarily raise income taxes on everyone to provide funding for schools would be Prop 39.

A change in corporate taxes to raise $1 billion for green energy programs and for the budget, backed by Tom Steyer, would be Prop 40.

Having these measures on the ballot together would be intriguing because they are competing with each other in multiple ways.

Brown's initiative and Munger's initiative seek to raise the same income taxes, which puts them in direct competition, and the two backers have been waging a war of words, particularly over which measure would be better for education, for months.

Opponents of all three taxes might benefit from being able to mount a simple "No on 38, 39 and 40" campaign.

The corporate tax measure is a wild card. It's quite possible that Brown and Munger could each express support for the measure. But Prop 40, if it ends up numbered that way, could be hurt by too much love.

Its backers will want to separate it from the other tax measures -- since it doesn't raise taxes that people feel as directly, and it doesn't raise taxes as much as other measures. The result: a a variety of different campaign messages using the three numbers -- 38, 39, and 40 -- in combination.

There's also a bit of political intrigue. Steyer, one of its backers, is being talked about as a candidate for statewide office -- perhaps even as a Democratic challenger to Gov. Brown in 2014. Could the contest with their initiatives be a preview?

The answers could be in the numbers.

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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