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Goos Goos and Anti-Taxers Make New Friends

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Patrick Walton
    "A no-tax pledge needs to mean something," said Jon Fleischman, a party vice-chairman from Southern California who introduced the measure. "If we don't respect the meaning of the pledge, we'll no longer be able to use it to defeat Democrats."

    Proposition 31, the massive 8,000-word package of reforms backed by the political arm of the state's largest reform group, California Forward, is in political trouble. One recent poll shows many voters are confused by it, and less than a third support it.

    Prop 31's troubles? There are two.

    First, the initiative received an official title and summary that aren't appealing to voters (most polls give the voters they survey the title and summary to base their judgment on).

    Second, labor unions, Democrats and many liberal-leaning editorial pages have turned against the measure (and, in some cases, against California Forward), in part because they believe Prop 31's complex series of budget reform measures would make spending and public investment even harder to pull off.

    That opposition, and the confusion about the measure, probably guarantee defeat. But the news isn't all bad. California Forward seems to have won over a lot of new fans -- on the right.

    Indeed, leading conservative Republicans, and long-time taxpayer advocates, have been warming to Prop 31. This is a turnaround; conservatives had been openly skeptical about California Forward, which was formed by foundations with a history of supporting progressive ideas and causes

    Nevertheless, Joel Fox -- former Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association president and leader of a small-business group (and publisher of a leading state blog, to which I contribute) -- has talked up Prop 31 as offering the kind of reform necessary. So has Jon Fleischman of the GOP and the Flash Report.

    What does the right like about Cal Forward? On policy, they seem to see the budget reforms as making it harder to spend (which is exactly what the liberals who moved away from the measure fear). They also like the opportunity politically to say yes to something -- and to contrast their support for reform with Gov. Jerry Brown and the Democrats' failure to pursue reforms.

    Indeed, the campaign against Prop 30, Brown's temporary tax measure, has added Yes on 31 messages, with the overall message being: Don't tax us more, reform the budget instead.

    But these new friends aren't all good news for California Forward. The good government group wants to continue to pursue reforms after this election, including many of the items in Prop 31.

    The support of conservatives for their ideas may make it even harder to convince the left and center to jump back on.

    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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