Brown wants to temporarily raise the income tax on high-wage earners and the sales tax on everyone to prevent further budget cuts to schools and universities.
"I think the message from voters is that Californians are over-taxed and they are very disinclined to support any additional tax increases," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
But some school leaders think you can't compare the cigarette-tax battle to the upcoming fight to save public education. They point out voters on Tuesday approved nearly two-thirds of local government and school tax and bond measures Tuesday.
"When they understand the linkage between the governor's measure being the only hope to help schools avoid further cuts, I think the voters will be there for us," said Kevin Gordon, schools finance consultant.
Recent election history, though, is not on the governor's side. Statewide tax measures have had a bad run: Not one has passed since 2004, the year voters agreed to an extra tax on millionaires to fund mental health services.
So in looking at Prop. 29's probable loss where voters are unwilling to tax smokers, it raises questions over whether they're willing to tax the rich and pay more themselves at cash registers.
It makes parents like Sheryl Fong nervous about the November election because schools cannot take any more cuts.
"I'm very worried because at schools today, we're hearing about class sizes, we're hearing about pink slips," said Fong.
While voter sentiment Tuesday doesn't necessarily mean doom for the Brown's tax measure, it does suggest his supporters have their work cut out for them.
"It's always clear that it's easier to get a 'no' vote than it is a 'yes' vote," said Gordon.