- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A group of unions, hospitals and doctors said Wednesday it will turn in more than enough signatures to qualify a ballot initiative asking Californians to extend for another 12 years a tax increase on the wealthy that was pitched to voters four years ago as temporary.

The tax would raise billions of dollars for state government, much of which would go to education and health care.

The group said at a Sacramento news conference that it began submitting nearly 1 million signatures for verification to counties Wednesday. At least 585,000 must be found valid.

“This initiative is simply asking those that earn the most in our state, the wealthiest 2 percent, to continue paying a little bit more for a little while longer,” said Laphonza Butler, president of the Service Employees International Union California State Council. “This money will go toward education and health care - important investments for our children and for our state’s future.”

Critics vowed to wage a campaign to persuade voters that the tax extension would be a drag on the economy.

“This lays bare the false promises of this being a temporary tax increase,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “We were told when voters first approved this during the severe budget crisis that it would be temporary, and now of course the supporters want to go back on their word.”

Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown led the campaign for Proposition 30, persuading voters it was necessary to close a multibillion-dollar state deficit and avoid massive cuts to California schools in the wake of the recession. He has not said whether he will support the campaign to extend the tax increase.

Voters approved the measure in 2012 raising sales taxes by a quarter-cent until the end of this year and income taxes on salaries above $250,000 until 2019. The new initiative would allow the sales tax to expire but continue the income tax increase through 2031.

If voters approve, income taxes would remain at 10.3 percent for individuals with incomes above $250,000; 11.3 percent above $300,000 and 12.3 percent at $500,000. The thresholds double for couples filing jointly.

If the initiative fails to garner enough support, income tax rates would revert to their previous rates of 9.3 percent for wages above $250,000 and 10.3 percent for those above $1 million.

Despite selling the tax increases as temporary four years ago, the proponents now say letting them expire would amount to a tax cut for millionaires while forcing layoffs of teachers and support staff.

“I think the California voters have been pretty clear that they want our schools to do better, they want our schools to continue the improvements they’ve been making since Prop. 30 passed,” said Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union and a politically influential group.

As of the end of March, the proponents reported having $13 million in the bank, most of it from the political arm of the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.

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