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Brown Tax Increase Losing Support of Voters, Poll Finds

Voter favor is waning for California Governor Jerry Brown’s November ballot initiative to raise taxes he says are needed to offset deep cuts to public schools, according to a poll released today.

Support among likely voters for Brown’s measure, which would increase sales and income taxes, leads 51 percent to 36 percent in the survey by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and The Field Poll. That’s down from 54 percent to 38 percent in July. Undecided voters rose to 13 percent from 8 percent.

The state budget signed by Brown in June counts on more than $8 billion of revenue from the higher taxes. If voters say no, it would trigger a $5.5 billion cut from schools, the equivalent to three weeks off the academic year.

A competing income-tax increase proposed by Molly Munger, the daughter of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s vice chairman, Charles Munger, also lost support in the latest poll, sliding to 41 percent from 46 percent in July. Voters against the measure fell to 44 percent from 46 percent, with undecideds almost doubling to 15 percent from 8 percent.

Under Brown’s plan, California’s state sales tax, already the highest in the U.S., would rise to 7.5 percent from 7.25 percent. The proposal would boost rates on income starting at $250,000, with those making $1 million or more, now taxed at 10.3 percent, paying 13.3 percent, the most of any state.

Republicans Blocked

The governor sought a ballot initiative with the help of labor unions after Republican lawmakers in 2011 blocked a vote on whether to extend expiring taxes.

Brown and the unions have raised more than $32 million to help pass their plan, according to MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization based in Berkeley.

Munger, who has poured $20 million of her own money into her initiative, would increase taxes on income of $7,316 or more, from 0.4 percent for the lowest earners to 2.2 percent for individuals making more than $2.5 million a year. It would raise $10 billion annually for 12 years.

Under Munger’s proposal, 30 percent of the additional revenue would pay school-bond debt for the first four years. For the remaining eight years, all the money would go to education.

An initiative to close a tax break for out-of-state corporations saw a slight increase in support, to 45 percent from 44 percent in July. The campaign led by Thomas Steyer, chairman of San Francisco-based hedge fund Farallon Capital Management LLC, would require businesses to figure their taxes solely on in-state sales. Opposition declined to 39 percent from 43 percent in July.

That measure would raise about $1 billion annually, with half set aside for the state’s general fund and half for energy-efficiency programs. Steyer has spent $22 million of his fortune on the measure.

The poll of 902 registered voters considered likely to take part in the November 2012 general election was conducted Sept. 6 to Sept. 18. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

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