One morning last week, as Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature huddled over the state budget at the Capitol, the effort to undo a central part of Brown's spending plan began to take shape in an office building just a few blocks away.
There, at a news conference to announce the formation of "Californians for Reforms and Jobs, not Taxes," Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, previewed the campaign against the governor's November ballot initiative to raise taxes. It will rely on messages, he said, that "quite frankly, are short and sweet."
Brown's opponents, Coupal said, will remind Californians of the state's relatively high tax burden, challenge the Democratic governor's claim that his tax increase is for schools and publicize unflattering examples of government spending.
It's a formula that has proven reliable in California tax votes in the past decade. Not since 2004 have voters approved a statewide ballot measure to raise taxes.
"My sense," said Tammy Frisby, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, "is that they're just going to go back to the playbook. It's worked for them in the past."
The political implications of the November election are huge for Brown, a Democrat who by Election Day will have spent nearly two years trying to raise taxes.
He proposes to raise the statewide sales tax by a quarter-cent and impose income tax increases on Californians earning more than $250,000 a year.
Though Brown has courted business interests sufficiently to raise money from some and to keep others on the sidelines -- the California Chamber of Commerce, among other groups, has not yet taken a position on the tax measure -- the Jarvis group presents what is likely to be a highly organized and sustained effort to defeat him.
Less than 24 hours after the news conference and not quite five months before the election, Coupal flew to Los Angeles to meet with potential donors and to conduct focus groups.
"We look forward to this campaign," he said. "We look forward to giving this tax increase the inglorious defeat that it so richly deserves."
Brown and his allies are widely expected to outspend their opposition, but Coupal said his group, which includes Jarvis, the National Federation of Independent Business, California, and the Small Business Action Committee, will raise enough money to compete on radio and television.
"We're going to have a sophisticated campaign," Coupal said. "We're going to have a well-run campaign, and I think we'll be pushing out our messages very effectively to California voters."
The anti-tax activists are compiling examples of government expenses they say are wasteful. Coupal brought up a favorite: high-speed rail, the $68 billion project that polls poorly but is championed by Brown.
"Now that's what we could use," said Joel Fox, president of the Small Business Action Committee. "Raise the high-speed rail issue over and over again."
"Yeah," Coupal said. "That's a silver platter."
Public support for Brown's measure has slipped in recent months but remains above 50 percent.
Confidence in Brown's handling of the state deficit, however, is waning, and the public's attitude about the economy remains sour. Confronted by the prospect of a broad-based sales tax increase, said Ted Costa, a veteran of conservative ballot initiatives, "Everyone's going to be pissed off."
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