SACRAMENTO (AP) — A majority of California voters agree with Gov. Jerry Brown’s approach to closing the state’s $25.4 billion budget deficit over the next year and a half, including his plan to hold a special election to extend temporary sales, vehicle and income taxes, according to a poll released Wednesday.
Six in 10 likely voters told the Public Policy Institute of California they are willing to pay higher taxes to support schools, and a majority also would pay more for universities. But voters overwhelmingly oppose paying more for California’s overcrowded prison system, which they incorrectly think accounts for the largest share of state spending.
Brown has proposed about $12.5 billion in spending cuts and borrowing, and wants to ask voters in a June special election to extend the temporary tax increases for an additional five years. Extending the income, sales and vehicle taxes is part of Brown’s plan to raise $12 billion through tax and fee increases.
Two-thirds of likely voters told pollsters they support Brown’s proposal for a special election. Three-quarters approve of Brown’s proposal to shift a host of services from the state to local governments; support came from voters of all political philosophies.
“I think it’s a good sign. I think we picked right, and I’m hopeful the Legislature will make the hard choices,” Brown said about the poll results Wednesday.
The original increases to the income, sales and vehicle taxes were approved in 2009 but will expire this year unless voters maintain them.
The survey also revealed a disconnect between what voters want and their understanding of how state government works. That suggests Brown and Democratic lawmakers face a challenge in persuading them to approve the tax extensions and go along with the budget cuts, which Brown has acknowledged will be deep and painful.
Schools account for the largest share of state spending by far — about 42 percent of general fund spending in the 2010-11 fiscal year. Only 22 percent of likely voters knew that. Four in 10 believe prisons cost the most, even though the prison system accounts for just 10 percent of the general fund.
California’s incarceration rate is higher than the national average, and its prison spending has climbed dramatically in the last few years as the average cost of housing an inmate has risen to nearly $50,000 a year. But prison spending accounts for $9.2 billion in the current fiscal year, less than half the budget shortfall through June 2012.
Californians also have approved a series of ballot measures that have added to the number of inmates in state prisons and lengthened sentences, starting with the “three-strikes” law in 1994.
Jessica’s Law, approved by voters in 2006, lengthened sentences for sex offenders and required expensive GPS monitoring of parolees, while Marsy’s Law, approved in 2008, increased the financial burden on law enforcement to notify victims.
Moreover, the state’s prison health care system is under the control of a receiver appointed by the federal courts who is demanding greater spending on inmate medical care.
Three-quarters of likely voters surveyed also said they believe it’s a good idea to strictly limit state spending, a proposal that could be on the ballot in 2012.
About four in 10 said they pay about the right amount in taxes, while 26 percent say they pay somewhat too much and another 26 percent say they pay far too much in taxes.
More than half the likely voters surveyed approve of raising taxes on corporations to help close the budget gap.
They gave the newly inaugurated Brown a 47 percent approval rating, although 33 percent said they did not know enough to answer. Twenty percent disapproved of Brown’s performance less than a month into his term.
The institute surveyed 987 likely voters by telephone from Jan. 11 to Jan. 18. The sampling error margin is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
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