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Mar 30, 2012 06:15 PM EDT

Voters Support Specific Tax Increases If Money Is Used For Public Education and Public Safety


LOS ANGELES - March 2012 - By hefty margins, Californian voters favor raising sales taxes and taxes on wealthier citizens if they're told the money goes to public schools, community colleges and public safety, according to the latest results from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll. 

Californian voters were split on whether to tackle the state's $9 billion budget deficit through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, or through spending cuts alone. Forty-nine percent of voters preferred a combination approach, while 45 percent of voters said taxes in California are already too high and the budget should be balanced by cutting from government programs.

But when asked about specific proposals, Californians by large margins supported proposals including sales tax hikes and higher income taxes for wealthier citizens - not only millionaires but also those making more than $250,000 a year.

Sixty-four percent of California voters said they would support an initiative - similar to a compromise ballot measure reached by Governor Brown and the California Federation of Teachers - to increase the state sales tax by a quarter of a cent for four years if the money were used to support public schools, community colleges, services for children and older adults, and local public safety. The proposal also includes higher state income taxes for seven years for those earning more than $250,000 annually, gradually increasing to a three point rate increase for those earning more than $500,000 a year. Thirty-three percent opposed the measure.

"Philosophically, voters are divided between spending cuts and taxes, but they support tax increases as long as they fall on other people, whether it is the rich or smokers. While Democrats will highlight the popular tax the rich argument, Republicans should remind Californians that the sales tax will hurt all Californians and harm an already weak economy," said Linda DiVall, CEO of American Viewpoint, the Republican polling firm that conducted the poll with Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner on behalf of the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Times.

"This is still a state seared by the economy and budget battles - and still divided quite evenly on whether spending cuts have to be mixed with tax increases or whether the state should depend only on spending cuts," said Stan Greenberg, CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. "However, the governor seems to read the public right in the proposals he presents that propose tax increases on the state's top earners. He wins two-thirds support for these ideas and is well positioned for this public debate. The public caution on taxes means he will have to be vigilant in making the case but there is broad receptivity."

Independent voters, who would be crucial to any passage of a ballot initiative in November, were strongly in favor of the proposal combining a sales tax increase and income tax increases to protect public education and other services.

Seventy-five percent of independent voters support the revised initiative, and 23 percent opposed. The initiative would seek to raise up to $7 billion with a lower sales tax hike than in Brown's original plan - a quarter of a cent increase instead of a half cent - and a larger income tax increase on those earning more than $250,000 a year.

By party, Democratic voters support the proposal 80-16. Among Republican voters, 38 percent support the proposed tax measure and 61 percent oppose it.

Seventy-nine percent of Latino voters overall support the proposal, along with 60 percent of White voters. Seventeen percent of Latino voters and 39 percent of White voters oppose the proposal reflecting the revised tax measure backed by Governor Brown that may appear on the November ballot.

"Jerry Brown may have pulled off a coup," said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "By convincing the teachers to drop their initiative, he ends up with a compromise that still draws big levels of support. It's not easy to convince voters to pass a tax increase, but if he can convince the state business community not to oppose his new measure, he could get it through." 

Californians were strongly opposed to raising income taxes across the board, with a strong majority opposing a proposal that would raise taxes on everyone earning more than $7,000 a year for 12 years, raising up to $11 billion for public schools, early childhood programs and paying down state debt. Sixty-four percent of voters opposed this proposal, which mirrors an initiative backed by attorney Molly Munger, and 32 percent support it.

On a now-defunct ballot initiative backed by the California Federation of Teachers that would have sought to raise taxes on millionaires, 69 percent of California voters supported raising income taxes on those earning more than $1 million a year in order to pay for public schools, social services for children and the elderly, and public safety, and 27 percent opposed it.

By a large margin, 68 percent of voters support raising taxes on cigarettes by a dollar to help pay for cancer research and law enforcement, and 29 percent oppose a new cigarette tax.

A majority of voters also favored reducing term limits for state legislators, who are currently limited to six years in the state Assembly and eight years in state Senate, for a total of 14 years. The proposed measure, on the June ballot in California, would reduce total term limits to 12 years, but allow the entire time to be served in one House. Fifty-one percent of Californians support the measure and 32 percent oppose it.


Governor Jerry Brown remains popular despite a tough economic climate, with his favorability among California voters higher than at any point during his term in office, according to the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll.

More than half - 51 percent - of California voters said they had a favorable view of Brown, and 35 percent said they had an unfavorable view. This is higher than Nov. 2011, when his favorability rating was 46-35, and slightly up from Nov. 2010, right after he was elected to office. In the Nov. 2010 USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, 50 percent of Californians had a favorable view of Brown and 41 percent had an unfavorable view.

In the latest poll, Brown's favorability was relatively even across racial lines: 51-38 among White voters, 51-28 among Latino voters, 65-27 among Black voters and 45-32 among Asian American voters.

Forty-nine percent of Californians approve of the job being done by Brown, and 35 percent disapprove.

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll was conducted from March 14 - 19, 2012 by Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Republican polling firm American Viewpoint. The full sample has a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points.

Source: University of Southern California(USC)

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