Gov. Jerry Brown pitches higher taxes to Los Angeles business leaders

California Gov. Jerry Brown givesa speech at Los Angeles City Hall on January 18, 2012 in Los Angeles.
California Gov. Jerry Brown givesa speech at Los Angeles City Hall on January 18, 2012 in Los Angeles.
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Gov. Jerry Brown pitched his proposal for higher taxes to about 1,500 business leaders in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday night at the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce inaugural dinner.

Business leaders applauded Brown several times as he promoted his temporary tax program. He compared his plan to a tax plan offered up a few years back by a former California governor.

"It’s half of Schwarzenegger’s tax program," said Brown. "I don’t know if you know that, but just two years ago, you were paying $12 billion that you’re not paying anymore."

Brown’s visit to the downtown L.A. Marriott Hotel was aimed at getting support from business executives for his tax plan. The governor wants voters to agree to raise the state sales tax by half a percentage point for four years — and to hike the state income tax for five years on people who make more than $250,000 a year.

While he works on bringing in more revenue for the state, Brown is also pushing for pension reform for government workers in California. When he talked about that, the governor got some chuckles.

“We do need pension reform," he announced, to copious applause. "Not as many people want to work as long as I do. So I’m your best pension buy. As long as I keep working for the state, you don’t have to pay me my pension."

Brown has reportedly said that three times as many people are retiring as are entering the workforce, and that the math just doesn’t add up.

After his speech, Brown spoke with reporters.

"I think this tax program with the budget cuts ... and then the pension reform, we put all three together and you have a very solid program for California’s recovery."

If voters don’t approve the tax hike proposal, Brown warns it could mean deep cuts to public education funding.

A recent statewide poll by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California shows that his tax plan is getting a favorable response from nearly 70 percent of likely voters.

Still, both sides of the political divide will need to work together to address the issue, says California State Senator Curren Price. Price attended the dinner.

"Republicans certainly have an aversion to taxes," he said, "and the Dems certainly don’t want to cut programs, so there has to be some meeting of the minds. Point is, we’re in a jam that’s causing us to think outside the box."

Cindy Lauren of Santa Monica says she’s behind the governor and is cautiously optimistic about his tax initiative.

"I love the idea, not so sure if I buy it," Lauren said. "I think he needs to have his feet kept to the fire. I mean, it’s one thing to promise, it’s another to deliver."

Brown has traveled recently to Orange County and San Diego to gather support from business leaders. He’s gathering signatures to get his tax plan on the November ballot.