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Taxes & Pensions

Golden State voters show slipping support for Gov. Brown's tax initiative, but favor pension reforms, finds USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll.

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/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 USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, 54 percent of voters said they supported the measure and 37 percent opposed it after being read the ballot language. This is a decline in support of nearly 10 percentage points since March 2012, when the poll showed 64 percent of Californians in support of the measure, and 33 percent opposed.

Support for Prop. 30 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, Governor Brown has cut billions in spending; we have made progress but we still have serious budget problems,” and 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. After respondents were read these statements, support for the initiative dropped to 48 percent in favor, and 43 percent against.

“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,” says Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. “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. The question is whether the opposition has the money to make sure their message is heard.”

Schnur and the Los Angeles Times’ Evan Halper and Chris Megerian discuss Propositions 30 and 38 here:

Though overall support for Brown’s ballot proposition has declined, the intensity of support for the measure has increased slightly. In March 2012, 37 percent of voters strongly favored Prop. 30, compared with 41 percent who strongly favor it in the latest poll (conducted September 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,” says Stan Greenberg, CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic polling firm that conducted the poll with Republican polling firm American Viewpoint.

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

Overall, Democratic voters were 69-20 in support of Prop. 30, Republican voters were 28-64, and voters who indicated no party preference were 58-32.

“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,” says Dave Kanevsky, 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 Prop. 38, while 34 percent support it. When respondents were 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 says. “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 agreed with a statement that the largest pension reform in California history didn’t go far enough, 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. Twenty percent of voters said the reform went too far, as did 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 says. “It appears he got enough to help him in November, but in the long run there is further appetite for pension reform.”

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