California Voters Favor Taxing the Rich to Fend Off School Cuts

California Voters Favor Taxing the Rich
The Malibu mansion where Presidential Candidate Dennis Kucinich held a fund-raising dinner in 2003. Photographer: Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

Six in 10 California likely voters support raising the top rate of the state income tax on the wealthy to prevent cuts in public-school funding as Governor Jerry Brown battles a resurgent budget deficit, a poll shows.

The statewide survey by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found that 61 percent of likely voters favor Brown’s approach to fixing the deficit with a mix of spending cuts and temporary tax increases, though they oppose certain income- and sales-taxes that are part of the plan.

Brown, a 73-year-old Democrat, is in the midst of a statewide campaign tour to sell his plan after Republicans blocked his efforts to put the tax extensions on a June ballot for voters to decide. Brown, governor from 1975 to 1983, took office in January vowing to fix the fiscal strains that have left California with the biggest state deficit, and the lowest credit rating from Standard & Poor’s, at A-.

“Californians want to vote on how to fix the budget,” Gil Duran, a Brown spokesman, said in an e-mail before the poll’s release today. “Republicans are denying them the right to vote, but pressure will continue to build as the full extent of the cuts becomes clear, and the voice of the people will eventually be heard.”

The poll also found that Brown’s popularity with likely voters had risen to 46 percent from 41 percent in March and February. It was as high as 47 percent in January at the start of his third term.

Brown proposed an $84.6 billion budget that would cut spending by $12.5 billion and raise $11 billion through voter approval of a five-year extension of tax and fee increases due to expire by July 1.

Trimming Deficit

Democratic majorities in the Legislature approved reductions trimming $14 billion a $26.6 billion deficit. Republicans, however, blocked the June referendum. The proposal needed a two-thirds vote that required at least two Republican votes in both the Assembly and the Senate. That raised the prospect of further spending reductions, a so-called all-cuts budget, to fill the rest of the deficit.

“An all-cuts budget would be abhorrent,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, said yesterday in a meeting with reporters. “The people would rebel.”

Brown has said he still wants to let voters decide whether to extend the taxes and fees, or to cut more from education and public safety. He hasn’t said when that vote could occur, or how.

Union Drive

Unions such as the California Federation of Teachers have indicated they may gather signatures to put a measure on the statewide ballot in November raising taxes on the wealthy. Republicans have countered that they may seek voter initiatives to cap spending and curtail public pensions.

“Californians’ support for maintaining K-12 spending remains strong,” Mark Baldassare, president the San Francisco-based Public Policy Institute said in a statement. “It is a significant factor for the state’s leaders to take into account in any proposals that they put before voters.”

The telephone survey of 2,504 California adults, including 1,209 likely voters, was taken April 5-19. The poll had a margin for error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for all adults and 3.5 percentage points for likely voters.

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