How strong is that support? Even Republicans are found to be slightly more likely to favor (53%) than oppose it (46%).
But digging down even deeper, we see there is a clear driver of these numbers, and it is support for public schools.
As John Myers from KQED writes, “As several other questions in the poll make clear, it’s probably not Brown’s proposal that they love so much… but rather the consequences of its failure that they hate.”
The consequence of failure means more cuts to education that has taken it on the chin virtually every year since the economy began to falter and revenue declined, as early as 2007.
If the tax measure fails, the governor has proposed automatic cuts to education – something that is opposed by three-quarters of likely voters including 67% of Republicans.
“There’s no question that if this was just a general tax increase,” says PPIC president and pollster Mark Baldassare, “that you’d have a whole different response.”
The governor has proposed to get the revenue largely through two different types of taxes – one an increase in the income tax on the wealthy and the other an increase in the state’s sales tax. The initiative would temporarily increase the state sales tax and the personal income taxes of wealthy Californians, with the new revenue going to K-12 education.
The PPIC survey asked separate questions about specific taxes that could be increased to help reduce the budget deficit, including two that are part of the governor’s tax initiative: income taxes on the wealthy and the state sales tax.
Not surprisingly, what the voters really support is the tax hike on the wealthiest Californians, which resonates with the one percent mantra of the Occupy Movement. The poll found that Californians strongly favor (74% adults, 68% likely voters) raising the top rate of state income tax paid by the wealthiest residents.
Voters even support commercial property tax increase protections out of Propostion 13. Mr. Myers notes that “an initiative to do just that was just cleared for signature gathering, though for now it’s seen as a concealed weapon of labor unions in their bid to stifle fundraising for the ground zero initiative on political donations by paycheck deductions.”
At the same time, the willingness to support tax hikes is limited.
However, large majorities of Californians (69% adults, 64% likely voters) oppose raising the state sales tax. Majorities across parties are against this idea, although Democrats (54%) are less likely to oppose it than independents (71%) or Republicans (74%).
“The challenge the governor faces with his tax initiative is that one generally popular tax increase – raising personal income taxes on the wealthy – is paired with one generally unpopular one – raising the state sales tax,” Mark Baldassare notes.
Writes Mr. Myers, “Undoubtedly, the governor’s most liberal supporters will see that kind of poll data as proof that any one of the other tax initiatives that are out there is better than his. And Brown has yet to dissuade all of those groups from launching their own campaigns in competition with his.”
Moreover, a good percentage of the electorate sees government cuts as the way to go.
The PPIC poll also found that while 40 percent of adults and likely voters prefer closing the state’s budget gap with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases – the approach the Governor has proposed – similar proportions (35% adults, 41% likely voters) prefer closing it mainly through spending cuts.
Indeed, Californians are far from happy with the way the state spends its money. Most (59% adults, 55% likely voters) believe state government could cut spending and still provide the same level of services. Most (59% adults, 62% likely voters) also favor strictly limiting the amount of money that state spending could increase each year.
“There remains a strong belief that the state government could spend less and provide the same services even as Californians notice local service reductions from state spending cuts and show early support for a tax increase,” said Mr. Baldassare.
Asked a fundamental question about the size of government, 51 percent of Californians would prefer to pay higher taxes and have a state government that provides more services, while 41 percent would prefer to pay lower taxes and have a state government that provides fewer services.
The bottom line would appear to be that education is driving the support of the governor’s tax plan.
When asked if they would pay higher taxes to maintain funding levels for the state’s four largest areas of spending, Californians are most willing to do so for K-12 public education (72%, adults, 62% likely voters), followed by health and human services (57% adults, 49% likely votes) and higher education (57% adults, 46% likely voters).
On the other hand, just 13 percent of adults and 12 percent of likely voters would pay higher taxes to maintain funding for prisons and corrections.
Californians hold these views at a time when most (62% adults, 60% likely voters) say their local government services have been affected a lot by recent state budget cuts. Most (55% adults, 59% likely voters) say that K-12 public education is the area of state spending they most want to protect from budget cuts.
Far fewer adults choose one of the three other main areas of state spending: higher education (19%), health and human services (17%), and prisons and corrections (6%).
Those who believe that the Davis School Parcel Tax election is going to be another nail biter ought to pay particular attention to these numbers. If 85% of Democrats favor paying more in taxes to support education across the state, you have to think at least that percentage in Davis will be inclined to vote to maintain the current parcel tax.
—David M. Greenwald reporting