Majority of California Voters Favor Brown Tax Plan, Poll Shows

Just over half of California’s likely voters support Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal to boost income taxes on those making $250,000 or more and raise sales levies to help balance state spending, according to a new poll.

Fifty-two percent of those surveyed for the Public Policy Institute of California said they backed the governor’s ballot measure to collect 7.75 percent on retail sales and increase rates for the top 1 percent of state taxpayers. Those earning $1 million and more would pay 12.3 percent, up from 10.3 percent.

The largest U.S. state by population faces a $9.2 billion deficit. Support for the plan, which the governor estimates would raise $6.9 billion a year, has diminished due to competition from other measures also proposed for the November ballot, said Mark Baldassare, president of the nonpartisan institute.

“There’s been a lot of controversy over which measure to support,” he said by telephone today. “It’s both the complexity and wording of the ballot measure and the controversy over which measure would be best that accounts for the drop in support.”

In a January survey by the San Francisco-based institute, 68 percent of likely voters supported the tax increases as long as the revenue was earmarked for education. The new results aren’t directly comparable because the question was reworded to reflect the actual language of the ballot question, which said the taxes would support both education and local public-safety programs.

Academic Year

The measure would devote 89 percent of new tax revenue to primary schools and 11 percent to community colleges while guaranteeing funds to local governments now responsible for some inmates formerly held in state prisons. If the proposal fails, Brown has said schools would lose $4.8 billion, the equivalent of shortening the academic year by three weeks.

Brown’s higher taxes would have applied to about 157,000 returns in 2008, or 1 percent of the total, and 131,000 returns in 2009, about 0.9 percent, according to estimates tabulated by the Legislative Analyst’s Office. About 1.1 percent of taxpayers would incur higher rates in 2012 and 2013, said Justin Garosi, an analyst in the office.

Brown’s proposal is competing with a measure by attorney Molly Munger that would raise income taxes on everyone making $17,346 or more, with the largest increases on higher earners; and a proposal by the California Federation of Teachers to increase income taxes only on those earning $1 million or more.

Brown’s political adviser, Steve Glazer, said by telephone that the 73-year-old Democrat hasn’t persuaded backers to drop the rival measures.

“We’re pleased we’re above 50 percent with the campaign still to come,” Glazer said.

Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said measures that start with less than two-thirds support typically fail.

“All of these issues seem to wear down over time,” he said.

The poll of 859 likely voters, taken Feb. 21-28, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

To contact the reporters on this story: James Nash in Los Angeles at jnash24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net.

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