PPIC poll: Public backs Gov. Brown’s tax increase plan

Most Californians favor Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal to temporarily increase the state sales tax and the income taxes of high earners, according to a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Sixty-five percent of all adults and 60 percent of likely voters favor the proposal, while 28 percent of adults and 36 percent of likely voters oppose it.

The full survey is available at the PPIC Web site at

The survey offers an early look at Californians’ views of the plan the governor hopes to put before voters in November to help close the budget deficit. It would raise $7 billion a year by increasing the sales tax a half-cent for four years and the income taxes of individuals earning more than $250,000 for five years.

Brown’s proposal—and competing tax plans being offered by others—comes at a time when nearly all Californians (93%) say the state’s budget situation is a problem. Most residents (62%) say their local government services—those provided by cities, counties, and public schools—have been affected a lot by recent budget cuts.

In Brown’s plan, money from the tax increases would go to K-12 schools. When Californians are asked a follow-up question about how they view his proposal if new revenue were to go directly to schools, 70 percent of all adults and 58 percent of likely voters favor it (27% all adults, 37% likely voters opposed).

“The governor’s plan includes some of the most popular ideas for raising taxes—higher taxes on the wealthy and more money for schools,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “At the same time, the major challenges in asking Californians to pass state tax increases are the low approval ratings of state elected officials and high levels of distrust in government.”

California faces automatic spending cuts in January to make up the state’s budget gap if—as expected—projected revenues fall short. Cuts would be made to K–12 schools, higher education, health and human services, and public safety. When residents are read a description of possible cuts, a plurality (41%) prefer to close the budget gap with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases. Fewer—30 percent—prefer to close it mainly with spending cuts (11% say mostly tax increases and 9% say it is okay to run a deficit).

With K–12 education making up a large share of the expected “trigger cuts,” a strong majority (85%) of Californians are concerned (53% very, 32% somewhat) about the potential effects on public schools.

Brown’s Approval Rating at 42 Percent — 46 Percent Among Likely Voters

Californians couple their concerns about the impact of cuts with a widespread distrust of state government: 74 percent say they trust the state government to do what is right only some of the time or never, 57 percent say the people in state government waste a lot of taxpayer money, and 67 percent say the state government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves and not for the benefit of all of the people.

Asked about their elected officials, 42 percent Californians approve of the job the governor is doing (30% disapprove, 28% don’t know), similar to ratings they have given him all year, except for declines in approval in February and March (34% each). Among likely voters, 46 percent approve, 36 percent disapprove, and 17 percent don’t know. About half of Democrats (55%) approve of the governor and the same proportion of Republicans (55%) disapprove.

Residents — including public employees — also support pension reforms

The amount of money that state and local governments spend on public employee pensions or retirement systems is a concern for Californians, with a strong majority (83%) saying it is a problem (44% big problem, 39% somewhat of a problem). Brown has offered a pension reform plan, and there may be others on the November ballot. The PPIC survey asked about three key ideas in the governor’s plan and found support for all three among all adults and current public employees.

Both groups favor:

–Increasing the amount that new and current public employees contribute to the annual cost of their pensions so that they pay a share equal to what employers contribute (70% adults, 62% public employees);

–Changing the pension systems for new public employees from defined benefits to a defined contribution system similar to a 401(k) plan (68% adults, 64% public employees); and

–Basing a new public employee’s pension benefits on the highest average annual compensation over a three-year period rather than on a single year of employment (60% adults, 66% public employees).

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