The More Tax Plans, the Better 

Jerry Brown should stop demanding that rival tax plans be dropped. Plus, Oakland scientist admits his role in leaking anti-climate-change docs.

For months, Governor Jerry Brown has been calling on supporters of rival tax measures to abandon theirs in favor of his. Brown has argued that if there are multiple tax proposals on the November ballot, voters will reject all of them out of frustration or confusion. It's highly debatable as to whether the governor's argument is correct, but if it is, then it's becoming clear that his tax proposal, perhaps the most regressive of the three vying for the ballot, is the one that should be dropped.

According to the newest Field Poll, Brown's proposal, which includes a modest tax on the rich and a sales tax increase that will impact low- and middle-income families, only garners 58-percent approval. By contrast, the so-called Millionaire's Tax, which targets people earning more than $1 million annually and which Brown believes should be abandoned, enjoys 63-percent approval.

Clearly, the sales tax portion of Brown's plan is hurting its chances. The Field Poll shows that only 30 percent of voters approve of raising sales taxes to help balance the state budget. It's no wonder. As the Express has reported, sales taxes unfairly target the 99 Percent, who already pay higher effective tax rates in California than the wealthy. In short, the Millionaire's Tax appears to have the best shot at winning in November, and if Brown really wants more revenues for state government, and truly believes that voters will reject multiple measures, then he should drop his own.

"The Field poll shows the Millionaire's Tax has the best chance of passage. This is the fifth poll that confirms the Millionaire's Tax has the strongest support from the people of California," Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, said in a statement last week. "We share the governor's and the PTA's goals of producing new revenue for education and essential services. We believe our measure is the best way to reach that goal."

The California Federation of Teachers and the California Nurses Association, which are sponsoring the Millionaire's Tax, have repeatedly refused Brown's call to drop their measure. They also are not as worried as he is about voters being frustrated with multiple measures on the ballot.

Mark DiCamillo, head of the Field Poll, isn't worried either. DiCamillo, a veteran political observer, told the San Francisco Chronicle that multiple tax measures might work in concert to convince voters that at least one should be approved. DiCamillo noted that in 1998 voters approved a landmark auto insurance reform initiative, even though there were five competing measures on the ballot. "That shows it can be done," DiCamillo said.

There's another good reason for having multiple tax measures in November. Large corporations and wealthy special interests may be less inclined to fund an opposition campaign against the Millionaire's Tax if they can support another tax on the ballot. And so far that appears to be happening. Numerous big companies and wealthy special interests have been pouring large donations into Brown's measure. They appear to like the fact that it targets the 99 Percent as well as the rich. And if Brown decides to push forward with his proposal, even though it trails the Millionaire's Tax in the polls, it might help siphon money that would otherwise be used to attack the Millionaire's Tax.

Oakland Scientist in Climate-Change Flap

On February 14, a series of leaked documents appeared on the Internet, outlining the rather brazen strategies of Chicago-based libertarian think-tank The Heartland Institute to discount evidence of global warming. The leak became an international story. Speculation on the documents' source and veracity ran rampant, until last week when research scientist Peter Gleick, co-founder and president of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute, admitted in an article in the Huffington Post to having obtained the documents through the use of a false identity.

In the article, Gleick explained that he used someone else's name to obtain the documents in order to verify the accuracy of a memo leaked to him by an anonymous source. And he expressed regret at having done so: "My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts — often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated — to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved," he wrote. "Nevertheless I deeply regret my own actions in this case. I offer my personal apologies to all those affected."

The documents, which have been largely confirmed as real, outline the institute's funding efforts and ongoing strategies. A significant portion of funding for the organization's anti-climate-change efforts — $1.67 million in 2010 and $979,000 in 2010 — comes from an anonymous donor. These funds go toward a slate of anti-climate-change programs including one designed to modify K-12 classroom curricula to introduce doubt about global-warming science, and another intended to discredit the nation's network of weather stations on the basis that meteorologists use them to report record highs and lows that scientists then use to support the notion of accelerating climate change.

Other strategies referenced included strengthening relationships with media outlets such as Forbes to eliminate opposing voices, and cultivating relationships with high-profile journalists likely to be sympathetic to the organization's cause. A fundraising document also alludes to a plan to defend hydraulic fracturing, alleging that environmentalists "invented charges that fracking poses environmental and safety risks."

The Heartland Institute responded to the leak by threatening legal action against publishers of the stolen documents. While such actions may be unlikely to succeed in court due to protections of freedom of the press, they could pose significant financial burdens to small and independent online publishers. Some onlookers have called the organization's response hypocritical, considering that during the Climategate scandal of November 2009, the institute itself published portions of stolen emails with the intent of discrediting scientists.

Gleick, a widely recognized water expert and climate change defender who was named in some of those leaked Climategate emails, preceded his recent apology with a defense of his basic position: "I only note that the understanding of the reality and risks of climate change is strong, compelling, and increasingly disturbing, and a rational public debate is desperately needed." 

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