By The Associated Press
California voters approved Gov. Jerry Brown's initiative to raise sales and income taxes to help balance the state budget but rejected an initiative aimed at thwarting the political influence of unions, turned down a broad-based income tax to raise money for public schools and rejected labeling of genetically engineered foods.
Voters also revised the harshest three-strikes law in the nation and turned down a proposition to give insurance companies more leeway to set rates.
A measure to repeal the death penalty was the one contentious ballot initiative that remained too close to call in an election that featured more than $370 million in spending for and against the 11 ballot measures.
Brown's initiative, Proposition 30, asked voters to raise income taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year and sales taxes on everyone to help balance the state budget and avoid about $6 billion in cuts, mostly to schools.
The Democratic governor thanked supporters at a Sacramento hotel Tuesday night.
"I know a lot of people had some doubts, had some questions, about 'Can you really go to the people and ask them to vote for a tax?'" Brown said. But he said people from diverse groups came together to support it. "A core reason that brought people together in support of Proposition 30 was a belief in our schools and our university and the capacity of the state government to make an investment that benefits all of us."
The spending cuts are already built into this year's state budget, and Democrats warned of dire results if the taxes were not approved, including some school districts that could shorten the school year by as many as three weeks.
He faced competition from a rival proposal to broadly raise income taxes and send the money directly to public school districts. Voters rejected that initiative, Proposition 38, and wealthy civil rights attorney Molly Munger conceded defeat at an election night party at the upscale Drago Centro restaurant in downtown Los Angeles.
"Obviously this is not the outcome we all hoped for but transformational change can take a long time and we all know that," Munger told supporters. She congratulated Brown for a well-run campaign but her supporters seemed less enthusiastic, offering only a smattering of applause.
Munger, who gave $44 million to her campaign, topped the list of a very wealthy donors who contributed to the $372 million spent for and against the 10 initiatives and one referendum.
A hedge fund billionaire financed the campaign for a third tax measure that voters approved, giving Brown additional momentum as he seeks to balance the state budget. The $1 billion a year the state is forecast to raise through Proposition 39 would be split for the first five years between the state general fund and energy efficiency improvements for public buildings. After five years, all the revenue would be directed to the state general fund.
The initiative repealed a loophole pushed by legislative Republicans in 2009 allowing out-of-state companies to set their own tax rate and put California-based companies at a disadvantage.
Unions and other Democratic interests pumped at least $75 million in a massive attempt to defeat Proposition 32, which would have prevented unions from spending members' dues on political causes. Corporate interests and wealthy Republicans have spent as much as $60 million in favor of the initiative, with some of that money also going into the effort to defeat Brown's tax initiative.
The anti-union drive that voters rejected follows conflicts in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere where Republican efforts to weaken organized labor produced protests and political tumult.
After a contentious last-minute legal fight that went to the state Supreme Court, it was revealed Monday that an $11 million donation to a group backing the anti-union initiative and opposing Brown's tax plan came from two groups that have spent millions on conservative causes nationwide. The Arizona nonprofit that funneled the money into California declined to reveal the original source of the contribution, however.
A proposal to abolish the state's death penalty was trailing. It would convert the sentences of the 726 inmates on California's death row to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and a plan to revise California's Three Strikes law to ensure that a final crime must be serious for felons to qualify.
Another contentious initiative that would have required most genetically engineered food and produce sold in supermarkets and other outlets to be labeled was defeated early Wednesday. The GMO foods also would have been barred from calling themselves "natural" on their labels.
Voters easily approved new Senate district maps that were drawn for the first time by a voter-approved independent panel of citizens and were considering whether to revise the state budget process and adopt two-year spending plans.