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California voters not supportive of new taxes

Merrill Balassoneby Merrill Balassone
The poll asked voters if they agreed with supporters' or opponents' statements about the parcel tax proposal.
The poll asked voters if they agreed with supporters' or opponents' statements about the parcel tax proposal.

Just months after the passage of Proposition 30, a temporary tax measure on the state’s wealthiest citizens, voters are reticent to lower the threshold by which future local tax measures could be approved, according to results of the latest USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll.

When asked if they were in favor of lowering the votes required to pass a parcel tax for school funding from two-thirds to 55 percent, 41 percent of voters said they were in favor and 49 percent were opposed.

“These results show that Gov. Brown’s post-election ‘proceed with caution’ strategy is the correct one,” said Dan Schnur, director of the poll and director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. “Voters feel they were told last fall that the passage of Proposition 30 would solve the state’s fiscal problems so they’re not in the mood to either pay higher taxes now or to make it easier to raise taxes in the future.”

The poll asked voters if they agreed with supporters’ or opponents’ statements about the parcel tax proposal. Forty-one percent of voters said requiring fewer votes to raise school revenue “will provide critical funding to improve California’s public schools, which currently rank next to last in the nation in per-student spending.”

In contrast, 48 percent agreed with the statement that requiring fewer votes to raise school revenue is just “throwing money at the problem.”

Among registered Democrats, 52 percent support lowering the threshold to pass local tax measures for schools, and 37 percent of parents support the proposal.

“Unlike Proposition 30, which was sold to most voters as taxes on the rich, this is people voting to raise taxes on themselves, which is tougher to sell,” said David Kanevsky, research director of Republican polling firm American Viewpoint, which conducted the survey with Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.

Just half of Californians want to divert some state funds from wealthier schools to those serving higher numbers of disadvantaged students — a sign that this cornerstone of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget plan is vulnerable, the poll also showed.

Fifty percent of California voters said they are in favor of Brown’s proposed school funding overhaul, and 39 percent said they oppose it.

Brown’s proposal calls for using a weighted formula to pay school districts and charter schools a premium for disadvantaged students, a boon to districts that enroll large numbers of low-income students and English-learners.

“Californians tend to be very altruistic, but they’re also very protective of their own children,” Schnur said. “The challenge for the governor is to convince them that this reallocation is not to harm the quality of education available to their own children.”

Latinos were far more likely to support the proposal to divert some school funds to schools with needier students — with 67 percent in favor to 26 percent opposed — than whites, who split 42 percent in favor to 46 percent opposed.

Sixty-three percent of those who make less than $50,000 per year support the proposal. In contrast, 45 percent of those who make $50,000 per year or more and 42 percent of those making $100,000 per year or more support it.

“People want to know, ‘What’s in it for my kid?’ and that creates a clear socioeconomic divide on this proposal,” said Drew Lieberman, vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.

Voters more strongly back another of Brown’s proposals, which would allow local school districts to wield more control over how money is spent in their schools.

Fifty-nine percent of Californians favor giving local school districts more spending flexibility, and 31 percent oppose it.

“Most Californians reasonably assume that the closer you are to a school and students, the better equipped you are to make a decision about how the money ought to be spent,” Schnur said.

Approval for the California State Legislature continues to be low, though approval ratings have seen a modest increase over the last three years.

Thirty percent of voters said they approve of the job being done by the Legislature, and 47 percent said they disapprove.

Three years ago, just 18 percent of voters approved of the job being done by the Legislature, and 67 percent disapproved, according to the results of the March 2010 USC Dornsife/LA Times Poll.

In the most recent poll, voters felt more favorably toward the Democrats in the Legislature, with 47 percent of Californians saying they felt favorably about Democratic representatives and 40 percent who said they felt unfavorably.

When asked about the Republicans in the Legislature, 30 percent of voters said they felt favorably and 53 percent said they felt unfavorably.

When asked about Brown, 49 percent of voters said they approve of the job being done by the governor, and 37 percent said they disapprove. That number is slightly higher than Brown’s approval ratings in April 2011, which showed a 44-to-33 approval rating.

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll was conducted from March 11-17 by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and American Viewpoint. The full sample of 1,501 registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Additional poll results and methodology are available at dornsife.usc.edu/poll

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