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Support for governor’s tax initiative continues to erode

Wu_Suzanneby Suzanne Wu
Proposition 30 would raise the state income tax on those earning more than $250,000 a year for seven years.
Photo: Proposition 30 would raise the state income tax on those earning more than $250,000 a year for seven years.

A majority of California voters support a November ballot initiative that would temporarily increase the state’s income tax on high earners and raise the sales tax, but this support has taken a tumble in the last few months, according to the latest results from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll.

Backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, Proposition 30 would raise the state income tax on those earning more than $250,000 a year for seven years and increase the sales tax by a quarter of a cent to fund public education and public safety.

In the latest poll, 54 percent of voters said they support Proposition 30, while 37 percent oppose the measure when read the ballot language. This is a decline in support of nearly 10 percentage points since March, when the poll showed 64 percent of Californians were in support of the measure, and 33 percent opposed it.

Support for the initiative declined even more when voters were read two brief statements outlining positions for and against the measure.

The first statement said, “after years of deficit spending, Gov. Brown has cut billions in spending. We have made progress, but we still have serious budget problems,” and it argued that voters should take a stand against further cuts to education and public safety, make the wealthy pay their fair share and help balance the budget.

The second statement said, “Sacramento politicians need to cut wasteful spending before raising our taxes” and mentioned high-speed rail and salary increases in Sacramento.

When read these statements, support for the initiative dropped to 48 percent of voters in favor and 43 percent against the measure.

Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, and Los Angeles Times reporters Evan Halper and Chris Megerian discuss Propositions 30 and 38.

“Californians are usually very resistant to raising taxes on themselves, but the prospect of big spending cuts to public education has helped Proposition 30 preserve its lead,” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.

“But any initiative that that is so close to 50 percent in the polls is vulnerable, and these results show that the opposition message is convincing,” Schnur added. “The question is whether the opposition has the money to make sure their message is heard.”

But while overall support for Brown’s ballot proposition has declined, the intensity of support for the measure has increased slightly. In March, 37 percent of voters strongly favored Proposition 30, compared to 41 percent who strongly favor it in the latest poll, conducted Sept. 17-23.

“Intensity matters in a ballot issue and who votes, and while the level of support for Prop. 30 has gone down over three polls and there is still a majority, this one looks to be very close,” said Stan Greenberg, CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic polling firm that conducted the poll with Republican polling firm American Viewpoint.

Support for Proposition 30 was starkly split along age, with 75 percent of 18-29 year-old voters supporting the measure, compared to 46 percent of those 50 and over.

“The news out of Sacramento has been creating downward pressure on Proposition 30, and the more voters hear about it, the less likely they are to support it,” said Dave Kanvesky, research director of American Viewpoint. “This is a ballot measure that could die a death by a thousand cuts.”

Proposition 38

One of those thousand cuts could be the competing November ballot initiative, backed by attorney Molly Munger, which would raise income taxes for most Californians on a sliding scale.

Munger’s initiative, Proposition 38, was opposed by a majority of voters in the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll.

Fifty-two percent of voters oppose the measure, while 34 percent support it. When read an additional statement describing the fiscal impact of the initiative — including $10 billion in new revenues over the next two years — the numbers barely budged, with 50 percent opposing the initiative and 39 percent in favor.

“It’s very rare to see support for an initiative grow as the campaign goes on,” Schnur said. “Munger’s chances are slim, but with her first ads directly engaging Prop. 30, this could have an effect on the governor’s initiative.”

Public employee pensions

Voters largely support the recent law limiting public employee pensions and raising the retirement age, and they may have the appetite for more, according to the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll.

Forty-five percent of voters agreed with a statement that the law is a fair, balanced solution that makes some much-needed changes to balance the budget long-term while also protecting public employees.

But 39 percent of voters said that the largest pension reform in California history did not go far enough, arguing that public employees continue to receive much more generous pensions than people who work in the private sector and that the reforms only tackle a fraction of the state’s pension obligations.

The law also caps benefits for the highest-paid employees. Overall, 20 percent of voters said the reform went too far, including 34 percent of Latino voters. Thirty percent said the law did not go far enough, and 31 percent said it struck a good balance between reforming the pension system and reducing the impact of pensions on the state debt.

“Jerry Brown needed a pension reform package that passed the smell test with voters in order to pass his ballot initiative,” Schnur said. “It appears he got enough to help him in November, but in the long run there is further appetite for pension reform.”

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll was conducted from Sept. 17-23 by Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Republican polling firm American Viewpoint. The full sample of 1,504 registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Follow all election news coverage at Election 2012, a resource for journalists and others interested in politics created by USC Media Relations.

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