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Poll: Californians Back Special Election, Tax Hikes For Wealthy

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California State Capitol in Sacramento (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California State Capitol in Sacramento (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) — Most Californians support Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to solve the budget deficit through a mix of spending cuts and higher taxes, but they want the state’s richest residents to bear the brunt of tax increases, according to a poll released Wednesday.

The survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 65 percent of likely voters are very concerned that public schools will suffer if deeper cuts are made to education to help close the state’s remaining $15.4 billion budget deficit.

The institute found that 56 percent of likely voters favor a special election giving the electorate the right to decide key budget questions, while 61 percent support Brown’s plan to balance the budget through a mix of cuts and taxes. But that does not mean voters would endorse the Democratic governor’s proposal entirely.

Brown wants to extend for five years increases to the personal income, sales and vehicle taxes. The tax increases are scheduled to expire this year, but renewing them would bring the state an additional $9.2 billion a year.

KCBS and Chronicle Insider Phil Matier Comments:

Two-thirds of likely voters surveyed said they oppose raising personal-income taxes to maintain current funding for schools, and nearly as many oppose higher sales taxes to pay for schools. Instead, six in 10 favor raising income taxes on top earners to fund education.

Brown wanted to hold a special election in June to put the tax question to voters but has been unable to get the necessary Republican votes in the state Legislature to place such a measure on the ballot. He has signed bills that cut the $26.6 billion budget deficit by $11.2 billion by reducing spending and transferring money between various government funds.

Californians have consistently said they support spending more on schools but do not favor paying higher taxes for them, an ongoing source of frustration for policymakers.

“We have two choices: We can either complain about it, the inconsistency out there in the populace, or we can say that’s the way it is, and get the job done,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

On Wednesday, Steinberg released a package of four bills aimed at making California’s curriculum more relevant, having a broader evaluation system for schools than just standardized tests, and increasing teacher effectiveness.

Schools already receive more than 40 percent of the state’s annual general fund and were largely spared from deep cuts in the bills lawmakers approved last month. Even so, thousands of teachers have been laid off, class sizes increased and programs such as art and music eliminated in recent years as California struggled through a steep drop in tax revenue brought on by the recession.

Public schools are not likely to fare as well as they did under the governor’s original proposal when Brown releases his revised budget plan in mid-May.

Among the options Brown has said he is considering is one that would close the state’s deficit entirely through spending cuts, a proposal that would have severe consequences for kindergarten through 12th grade education.

Ever since the Public Policy Institute began asking respondents to evaluate the major areas of state spending — public schools, health and human services, higher education, and prisons — a majority has continually favored public school funding above other areas, institute president Mark Baldassare said.

“Californians’ support for maintaining K-12 spending remains strong. It is a significant factor for the state’s leaders to take into account in any proposals that they put before voters this year,” Baldassare said. “Residents are worried about the toll that reduced spending is having on the quality of K-12 public education, and public school parents are noticing the impact of state budget cuts on their children’s schools.”

The poll also found Brown’s approval rating among likely voters has climbed to 46 percent, from 34 percent in March. The Legislature’s approval rating continues to be poor, at just 14 percent among likely voters.

The poll surveyed 1,634 registered voters by phone from April 5 to April 19. It has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points for likely voters.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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