Tax War Kickoff

Gov. Jerry Brown's low-key launch is a prelude to fireworks in 2012

After all the anticipation, all the news leaks, Gov. Jerry Brown's soft launch of his tax increase plan this week was certainly unconventional.

But what would you expect?

Instead of staging a Capitol news conference to unveil the plan, Brown chose to post his proposal on Twitter, via what he called an "Open Letter to the People of California."

It brings to mind last year, when Brown decided to launch his campaign for governor, not by barnstorming around the state and staging noisy media events, but by posting a video on YouTube.

That video, relatively stark in nature, allowed Brown to outline his desire to return to the governorship after a 28-year absence by focusing on his political experience. 

It set the stage for the campaign to come.

In much the same way, Brown is using social media to establish the  tone for the upcoming taxation campaign.

"The stark truth is that without new tax revenues, we will have no other choice but to make deeper and more damaging cuts to schools, universities, public safety and our courts." Brown said in his Twitter post.

Brown's decision to make an end-run around the legislature and seek petition signatures to put his measure on the ballot reflects the calculus that it makes no sense to attempt to win legislative approval. He tried that last summer, but failed to strike a deal with a handful of Republican lawmakers on a temporary tax measure.

It also reflects what appears to be a shift in his outlook.  Last year, when Brown was running for governor, he told me he believed he could forge positive relationships and establish a more collegial atmosphere in order to reach bipartisan agreements.

Bipartisanship is an endangered concept these days.

In fact, one of the Republicans he negotiated with last year on taxes was quick to issue a blistering response to Brown's latest plan.

"If he really cared about protecting schools and ourmost vulnerable, he will stop whining and get back to the negotiating table," Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) said.

Brown's plan seeks to tax the wealthy and boost the sales tax, with the revenues to be spent on education and public safety.  Voters consistently have opposed cuts to those programs.

But as the governor ramps up his campaign, he'll have to seek agreement with other groups that are pitching their own tax proposals.  If he can't clear the field, voters will react with hostility to a ballot loaded with tax measures.

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