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Gov. Jerry Brown implores California voters: Please raise taxes on yourself

Republicans blocked the efforts of California Gov. Jerry Brown to fix a budget crisis through more tax revenues. So his new plan is to go straight to voters in 2012.

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California Gov. Jerry Brown discusses his proposal to roll back public employee pension benefits during a news conference at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., in October. On Monday, he put forward a plan to introduce a ballot initiative to raise taxes.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP/File

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Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday proposed a ballot initiative that would ask Californians to raise taxes on themselves.

Facing huge deficits despite $10 billion in budget cuts last year, California needs new tax dollars in order to avoid catastrophic cuts to schools and government services for the elderly, Governor Brown said.

His plan includes a 1 percent income-tax-rate increase for individuals making more than $250,000 per year, and a 2 percent rate increase for those making more than $500,000. It would also increase the state sales tax by half a cent to 7.75 percent.

In total, at least 10 initiatives that propose tax increases are vying to qualify for the 2012 ballot in California – a sign that the state that led the national tax revolt with Proposition 13 in 1978 might now be considering at least a partial reversal of course.

With many states still focused only on cuts, such a bold statement from California could reverberate nationwide – either giving other states cover to try similar measures or showing that, even with budgets in dire straits, tax increases are a political impossibility.

“A victory for tax increases in California could encourage similar moves in other states,” says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College. “If the tax measure goes down to defeat – in a blue state running a huge deficit – the effect would be to chill such proposals in other states for many years to come.”

Brown’s proposal is projected to raise $7 billion per year and would expire in 2016. On Monday, he dismissed the idea of going through the Legislature, where a two-thirds vote is needed for raising taxes. Indeed, Brown tried to go through the Legislature earlier this year to get a tax measure put on the ballot, but Republicans blocked him.

So now the plan is to collect enough citizen signatures to put his plan on the ballot without any input from lawmakers.

“I am going directly to the voters because I don’t want to get bogged down in partisan gridlock as happened this year,” said Brown in a statement. “The stakes are too high.”

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