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California teachers union pushed pollster to drop Jerry Brown's tax rival

March 13, 2012 |  2:02 pm

California teachers union pushed pollster to drop Jerry Brown's tax rival

When wealthy civil rights attorney Molly Munger began drawing up a proposed tax hike to fund education last fall, she partly relied on polls by The Mellman Group, a well-known D.C. polling firm that regularly worked for advocates of increased funding for California public schools.

But now the state's largest teachers union and one of The Mellman Group's major clients, the California Teachers Assn., opposes Munger's initiative, fearing it and another proposed tax initiative will lead voters to reject a third one that Gov. Jerry Brown hopes to place on the November ballot to close the budget deficit. According to interviews, the CTA demanded that Mellman drop Munger as a client. It is now circulating a Mellman poll showing that too many tax initiatives doom all of them.

The vignette opens a window on the civil war in Sacramento over the rival tax measures, which has split the state's small cadre of left-leaning educational wonks and activists. Munger's advisors include former officials with the CTA and the Service Employees International Union, two behemoths of organized labor that back Brown's tax proposal. A third, smaller teachers union, the California Federation of Teachers, is part of a coalition of liberal groups pushing a tax on millionaires.

Munger's proposal is an across-the-board income tax hike that would rise more steeply on high-income earners, generating up to $11 billion in education funds over 12 years. Brown's combination of a half-cent sales tax hike and an increase on income taxes on top filers would generate less, between $5 billion and $7 billion, over about five years.

All three campaigns are gathering signatures to place the measures on the ballot.

Mellman did multiple polls for Munger. One in November gauged levels of support for her initiative. Brown's aides have noted that it did not find that more than half of state voters backed the measure, usually the minimum required for a ballot initiative to be viable. In an interview, Mark Mellman, the group's president, said the poll was designed to see how persuadable voters might be rather than test an up-or-down vote.

Addisu Demisse, the campaign manager for Munger's initiative, said in a statement that, in December, Mellman produced a second poll. This one showed that Munger's tax would best Brown's if they both ended up on the ballot.

After that, CTA told Mellman to stop working for Munger, Demisse said. "After initially giving him approval to work with the Our Children, Our Future team, CTA changed its mind several weeks ago and advised him they considered his working with us to be a conflict of interest," he said in the statement. "He advised us he would comply with their request that he cease working with us."

Mellman said: "I have a long history of working with CTA and they are my primary client in this arena in California." He would not comment further on the issue.

CTA did not respond to requests for comment.

RELATED:

Jerry Brown tries to squelch comepting tax measures

Poll: Millionaires tax has best chance of survival in November

Poll: Brown's tax plan can pass, but not with rivals on the ballot

 -- Nicholas Riccardi in Sacramento

Photo: Members of the California Teachers Assn., which forbade a Washington, D.C.-based pollster from working for an effort to raise income taxes to fund education, rally in South San Francisco in 2005. Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

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