With California's first dog Sutter sporting "Yes on Proposition 30" stickers, Brown used back-to-school to kick off his campaign to temporarily add a surcharge on the income taxes of those making at least $250,000 a year, and raise the sales tax for everyone. He's framing his push as a choice between lower taxes or higher funding for public education.
"It's whether the most privileged and blessed people in our state will pay 1 or 2 or 3 percent more for seven years, or we cut three weeks of school and take a half-a-billion from our colleges. That's it," Brown said.
Educators and students from one district surrounded the governor, talking about how $20 billion in budget cuts over the last few years have taken a toll on schools.
"Budget cuts have resulted in hundreds of layoff notices to teachers, dramatic increases in class size from kindergarten to third grade," said Shannon Brown, who was the 2011 California Teacher of the Year.
The other side is ready with a message of its own: How can you trust leaders to spend a new annual pot of $6 billion wisely?
Opponents say it'll be easy to defeat Brown's tax measure. They just have to point out the recent glaring examples of what they call "financial mismanagement" of taxpayer money: Despite a state budget still in crisis, the High-Speed Rail Project got billions for the first 130-mile segment. The Parks Department had $54 million hidden in two accounts for more than a decade, and an executive secretly offered vacation buyouts.
On top of that, some lawmakers doled out pay raises up to 5 percent to staffers.
The No on Proposition 30 campaign also points out that the tax hikes don't fix what's fundamentally wrong with the state budget: the lack of spending controls.
"Absent any real reforms, there's a little likelihood that the budget will balanced over time, and there's a high likelihood that the temporary taxes will become permanent," said Joel Fox of No On Proposition 30.
California voters have rejected the last eight statewide tax measures.