Budget & Finance

Mixed Views in California on Gov. Brown’s Tax Plans

By Andrew Ujifusa — April 26, 2012 3 min read
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A majority of California residents support Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to raise taxes to boost public school funding, and a higher tax levy on the wealthy that’s a part of that plan gets the nod from nearly two-thirds of them. But most dislike the part of Brown’s plan that would increase the state sales tax, and an insufficient number of them would vote in favor of new local taxes and bonds to fund schools, a new survey shows.

Those findings are some of the big attention-grabbers from a survey of about 2,000 state residents just released by the Public Policy Institute of California. In addition, the survey finds not enough support exists for local taxes to be increased or bond measures supporting school construction to be passed, while a big majority oppose the cuts to public schools that Brown says will be automatic if his tax initiative is rejected.

History, however, isn’t necessarily on Brown’s side even if poll numbers are.

Brown’s tax initiative, which he reached through negotiations with the California Federation of Teachers in March, calls for raising the tax rate on those making more than $250,000 annually while increasing the state sales tax by a quarter of a cent. (Previously Brown had sought a half-cent sales tax hike.)

In the institute’s survey, 65 percent supported the tax hike on California’s wealthiest citizens, compared to 34 percent against it. But only 46 percent support the plan to increase the sales tax (52 percent say they don’t want it). The share of those in favor almost exactly matches a previous poll in March conducted by the Los Angeles Times.

Overall, it should be stressed, a majority of likely voters (54 percent) said they would probably vote for Brown’s initiative. (Thirty-nine percent would probably vote no.) Perhaps not surprisingly, public school parents support the initiative by about a two-to-one margin (60 percent in favor compared to 30 percent opposed).

Interestingly, a majority of those surveyed, 53 percent and 51 percent, say they would vote in favor of bond measures to pay for construction projects in their local districts and in favor of increasing parcel taxes to benefit public schools. However, a 55-percent majority is needed to approve such bond measures, and a two-thirds majority of voters is required for those parcel taxes to go up.

But nearly four out of five people surveyed (78 percent) said they don’t want the automatic cuts to schools that Brown said will have to be made if the ballot initiative fails.

The state’s Howard Jarvis Tax Foundation is one group leading efforts against Brown’s proposed tax initiative, arguing that poll numbers aren’t the whole story. The foundation’s Jon Coupal recently told the Orange County Register that California voters have swatted down the last seven attempts at state tax increases proposed as ballot initiatives.

The issue of raising taxes on high earners is an easy hot button to push, but there’s other good local school data in the poll results. The survey also touched on Brown’s proposal to give more flexibility to local schools as to how state funds are spent. A majority, 53 percent, want districts to have the most control over spending decisions, while only 6 percent want the state to have the biggest megaphone on such decisions. This may help explain the fact that more than half (52 percent) of those surveyed give their local public schools an A or B grade. (Thirty-five percent would give a B.)

The survey’s findings were based on questions asked to 2,005 Californians on both landlines and cell phones from April 3 through April 10 this year, of whom 1,310 were registered voters and 620 were public school parents.

In neighboring Nevada, not exactly a Democratic stronghold like California, Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) made big news last month when he announced that sales and business taxes amounting to $620 million but due to sunset in July 2013 should be continued by the legislature next year to avoid cuts to education and health care services. The Las Vegas Review-Journal noted that Republican legislators backed Sandoval, even though in his 2010 gubernatorial campaign Sandoval said extending the taxes beyond their 2013 sunset date would represent a tax increase, which he opposed at the time. On April 23, Sandoval also announced an agreement with Amazon that will allow the state to collect sales taxes on purchases made through the online company beginning Jan. 1, 2013.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.