SACRAMENTO (AP) — About 200 religious leaders from numerous denominations endorsed Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed November tax initiative Thursday, saying they believe those who are blessed with riches should share them with the less fortunate.
Brown met with leaders from PICO California in the basement of the downtown Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, the regional Catholic diocese headquarters a block from the state Capitol. The nonprofit group's ministers and rabbis were lobbying lawmakers for policies they say reflect their values of social justice and caring for the needy.
"Our vision of California as a land of opportunity for all cannot be achieved if our youth, elders, families and communities are starved of the resources they need," said the Rev. George Cummings, founding pastor of Imani Community Church in Oakland.
The religious leaders say they will work to register voters in their congregations and urge them to support Brown's proposal. His initiative, which has not yet qualified for the ballot, would raise income taxes by 1 percent to 3 percent for seven years on people who make more than $250,000 annually and raise the sales tax from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent for four years, starting in January.
Brown told the group his initiative promotes fairness because it asks everyone to contribute, while generating the most revenue from those who make more than $1 million a year.
"It's something that represents our best spirits. Those who have made $1 million or $500,000 or $250,000, they've been blessed and they must join with us in blessing those that have not been so fortunate," Brown, a Catholic and former seminary student, said to raucous applause. "At the same time, this initiative does ask a quarter-cent sales tax from every Californian, no matter how rich or how poor. We're all in it together."
The church leaders then poured soil they brought from around the state into a jar they gave to the governor, meant to represent the state's diversity.
Churches are prohibited by law from endorsing candidates or political parties but are free to advocate for and against issues and legislation, including ballot initiatives.
The California Catholic Conference, the public policy arm for Catholic churches around the state, has not yet taken a position on the governor's tax proposal.
PICO California, a nonprofit that represents 480 congregations statewide, intends to register 100,000 new voters this year as part of a 10-state civil engagement project by its national branch.
Rabbi Ron Stern of the Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles said his congregation of 8,000 comprises people who would be affected by Brown's proposed tax increase. He said Hebrew scriptures call upon Jews to give back to their communities.
"The tradition doesn't say we have to make the rich richer," Stern said in an interview. "No religious tradition says that. Traditions say that the rich have to care for the poor. And if you've been blessed with bounty, then you have to make sure that every other person has dignity in their lives."
The ballot initiatives PICO affiliates have taken a position on this year include a proposal to cap payday loans in Missouri, a budget cap in Florida and a voting-rights bill in Minnesota.