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Brown Tax Initiative

Voter support for Gov. Brown’s tax initiative is slipping, as California budget shortfall grows. But most voters favor his plan to reduce state worker hours.

Confronted with a larger-than-expected budget deficit, a majority of California voters continue to support Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed November ballot initiative that would temporarily raise the state sales tax and income tax on high earners in the state… but this support shows signs of slipping.

Approval for Brown’s ballot initiative fell five percentage points in the latest USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll, conducted May 17-21. Fifty-nine percent of voters favor Brown’s budget proposal — including the ballot initiative that would temporarily raise the state sales tax and income tax on high earners — and 36 percent oppose it. In March 2012, the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll found that 64 percent of voters supported Brown’s ballot initiative and 33 percent opposed it.

The margin narrows further when voters are presented with arguments for and against Brown’s proposal, along with the information that California faces a budget deficit of $16 billion, much higher than the initial projection of $9 billion.

In the face of these new numbers, 51 percent of likely voters agree with the statement that it is “more important than ever to support Governor Brown’s proposal to temporarily increase the income tax on high earners; no one wants higher taxes, but we need to make these tough choices to protect public schools, higher education and public safety.”

In contrast, 41 percent of likely voters agree with this statement: “The increased budget deficit shows clearly that state government does not know how to balance a budget or spend taxpayer dollars. It’s more important than ever to oppose Governor Brown’s proposal to temporarily increase the state sales tax because the money will just be wasted again.”

“Governor Brown and his advisers have argued that the prospect of difficult spending cuts would lead to increased support for additional revenues, but the ongoing news coverage of the state’s budget problems may be creating an obstacle for his ballot initiative as well,” says Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. “Voters have indicated a willingness to pay more for public schools and public safety. But they are also getting skeptical about whether their elected representatives can be trusted to spend their money wisely.”

Forty-nine percent of California voters approve of the job Brown is doing; this is virtually unchanged from the results of the March 2012 poll. But Brown’s disapproval numbers have risen slightly over the past few months, from 35 percent in March to 39 percent in the new poll.

Voters Support Reducing Work Hours for Public Employees

The governor’s plan would seek to balance the budget deficit through a combination of revenue increases and cuts to health and welfare spending, as well as other state programs. Brown’s plan also proposes reducing the work week for state employees by 5 percent — from 40 hours a week to 38 hours.

By a two-to-one margin, California voters support reducing the number of hours worked by state employees (except for public safety employees), in order to save an estimated $400 million. Sixty percent of voters favor reducing the public employee work week, and 30 percent oppose it.

Latino voters are much less likely than voters overall to support cutting the pubic employee work week. Forty-four percent of Latino voters in California favor reducing the public employee work week, and 45 percent oppose it.

When voters are told that this cut will mean state offices are open four days a week, support for the reduced work week declines: 54 percent of all voters — and 44 percent of Latino voters — favor the plan if it means state offices are closed one additional day per week. Thirty-nine percent of overall voters — and 48 percent of Latinos — oppose it.

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