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Brown pushes tax measure in GOP strongholds

In stops in Orange County and San Diego, Gov. Jerry Brown meets with business and community leaders, seeking support for his effort to temporarily raise taxes on sales and upper incomes.

January 20, 2012|By Anthony York, Los Angeles Times
  • Gov. Jerry Brown delivers his State of the State address as Assembly Speaker John Perez looks on.
Gov. Jerry Brown delivers his State of the State address as Assembly Speaker… (Justin Sullivan / Getty…)

Reporting from San Diego -- Gov. Jerry Brown began a public push for his tax initiative Thursday, getting mixed results in campaign-style appearances before business and community leaders in Orange County and San Diego.

He received encouragement, if not formal endorsements, after a closed-door morning meeting with about 50 business leaders in Irvine but found little enthusiasm in a civic group farther south.

Gaining support, or at least neutralizing opposition, from business groups will be vital for Brown, whose proxies are gathering signatures for a ballot measure that would temporarily raise taxes on sales and upper incomes.

"I would say without hesitation…that the room was supportive," said Lucy Dunn, chief executive of the Orange County Business Council, after the governor's Irvine visit.

Brown peddled his proposal as half the size of one he failed to get the Legislature to put on the ballot last year and characterized it as the best way to fix the state's financial mess.

Later, he told reporters that support for a tax hike is growing from a range of business interests that include oil companies and health insurers. He said the initiative campaign has received contributions from Occidental Petroleum and Kaiser Permanente in recent days and was confident that more companies would join.

"They're putting their money where their mouth is," he said.

But Brown encountered some skepticism in a lunchtime address to more than 200 community leaders, who ate from paper plates at the San Diego Hall of Champions as Brown repeated his pitch.

Ruben Barrales, president of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, praised the governor for advocating new policies on water, more local control of school funds and changes to California's public pension system — all outlined in Brown's State of the State address in Sacramento on Wednesday. But Barrales demurred on the tax issue.

"Taxes are a hard sell," he said. "Focusing on those other issues could build some good will, but I'm not sure it's enough to pass a tax initiative."

Past critics of the governor hailed his efforts to try to woo business early.

"The key to the governor's success in November is to bring business support on board," said Republican strategist Rob Stutzman. "I think it's significant that he's with business leaders today instead of at a union hall. It shows he's focused on broadening his political coalition as much as possible."

Brown's San Diego stop capped a two-day swing that began in Los Angeles just hours after he delivered his speech Wednesday. He reprised the address at City Hall and then met with teachers in Burbank.

Meanwhile, he was cleared by state officials to circulate petitions to put his tax-hike proposal before voters in November. And Brown scored an early victory when a coalition of billionaires and good-government advocates abandoned their own tax proposal, which could have competed with his.

One of the billionaires, L.A. businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad, said he would open his wallet to help Brown.

"Those of us that are wealthy like myself should pay more," Broad said Wednesday, echoing Brown's call for higher income taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year. "There are so many human needs in education and elsewhere. And I like the fact that it's temporary, for five years. Hopefully, by then, a lot of other things will change."

Some business leaders have said they shared Brown's frustration that lawmakers in Sacramento could not agree on a wide-ranging deal last year that would have allowed voters to decide on new taxes, a cap on state spending and changes in the public pension system. The deal fell apart after weeks of Capitol negotiations.

"I think there is growing frustration in the business community that Republicans as a bloc don't even want to come to the table," Stutzman said. "When you're the minority party and don't want to come to the table, you're irrelevant and have no utility to the business community."

Last year, Brown's business support came from traditionally centrist organizations such as the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the Silicon Valley Leadership Council. This time around, he headed for the heart of Republican territory.

Brown said he would spend more time away from Sacramento as he continues to make his case to voters.

"You can expect to see me…a lot more in the coming months," he said.

anthony.york@latimes.com

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