Budgets Tight, States Ask Voters To Raise Taxes In California and other states struggling to plug big holes in their budgets, tax increases will be on the ballot in November. Several measures ask voters to help ward off budget cuts, or to raise funds for basic functions like schools and roads.

Budgets Tight, States Ask Voters To Raise Taxes

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In addition to questions about marijuana and same-sex marriage, state voters will also weigh in on a raft of tax and budget measures this November. Those include a few efforts to raise taxes. One of the most closely watched proposals is in California. There, Governor Jerry Brown has staked his reputation on his ability to close the state's multibillion dollar budget gap.

NPR's Richard Gonzales has that story.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: This week in Sacramento, Jerry Brown, flanked by a group of high school students, officially kicked off his campaign to get voter approval to raise taxes. It's called Proposition 30, the Schools and Public Safety Protection Act.

JERRY BROWN: We all know what's at stake. The kids standing behind me have their future at stake.

GONZALES: Prop 30, if approved by voters, would temporarily increase the sales tax by a quarter cent and income taxes on the state's highest earners. The new taxes would raise about $6 billion. Two years ago, when Jerry Brown was campaigning for governor, California's budget was drowning in red ink. Since then, he signed a budget that slashed spending on social services and he promised voters that he wouldn't seek a tax hike without their approval.

BROWN: And, if we cannot pass Prop 30, we're taking a half a billion out of our colleges and universities and we're taking five and a half billion out of our schools. Doesn't make any sense.

GONZALES: Critics say Brown's measure is disingenuous because not all of the money raised will go to schools. And, in fact, there is a competing tax hike measure dedicated entirely to school funding. Still, Brown's measure is polling better than 50 percent.

Corey Cook, who teaches politics at the University of San Francisco, says the governor has seized on what might prove to be a winning approach.

COREY COOK: And, ultimately, I think this election is a significant one because this is the one where, really, you know, voters are presented with the choice of - do you actually want your kids to come home from school three weeks early or are you willing to pay more in taxes?

GONZALES: California isn't the only state where a tax hike proposal is linked to a specific goal. In South Dakota, there's a measure to raise the state sales tax from four to five percent. The money is earmarked for K through 12 education and the state's Medicaid program.

In Arkansas, there's a half cent sales tax proposal designed to pay for a four-lane state highway system. Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, says the measure trails in the polls.

JAY BARTH: Yeah. I think Arkansans have a real queasiness about tax increases for general revenues. There's not a lot of trust in government to use money wisely.

GONZALES: And yet, Barth says recent history shows that Arkansans will vote to raise taxes when they are convinced that the money will go to a specific and worthy project. And politicians know that's the threshold just about everywhere, says Arturo Perez. He's a fiscal analyst who follows state tax issues for the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver.

ARTURO PEREZ: When voters are asked to consider the tax increase, the likelihood that there is an earmarked or dedicated expenditure of the revenues for a specific program is very high.

GONZALES: There are a handful of other states with tax measures on the ballot, but those seek to reduce revenue collection, mainly by expanding tax exemptions and limiting property tax assessments.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

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