Progressives say polls back millionaires tax

With a blizzard of tax-hike measures vying for slots on next November’s ballot, a coalition of labor and progressive groups said today that polling shows their “millionaire’s tax” is the most popular.

So popular, in fact, that proponents say everyone – including Gov. Jerry Brown, who has a different plan of his own – should support it as the only one that has a chance of passing.

The Restoring California Coalition – comprised of more than two dozen groups including unions such as the California Federation of Teachers and progressive groups such as the Courage Campaign – last week submitted to the Attorney General’s office a proposed measure that would hike taxes on income over $1 million by 3 percent and over $2 million by 5 percent. The coalition says this would raise about $6 billion per year, to be spent on K-12 and higher education; services for seniors and the disabled; child care; police and fire services; and roads and bridges.

California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt told reporters on a conference call today that the plan “does not put it on the backs of working families and middle class families who have been suffering, particularly during this economic downturn,” and “resonates with the growing awareness of economic and tax inequity that we’ve seen in recent months.”

Pollster Ben Tulchin said he has interviewed nearly 5,000 likely November 2012 voters in several surveys this year and conducted 16 focus groups around the state, finding strong support for such a measure.

Voters’ perceptions that the rich have gotten richer while the middle class has struggled in recent years, and that the rich don’t pay their fair share in taxes, surged from May to October, perhaps due to rhetoric coming from the Occupy movement, the White House and other quarters, Tulchin said.

He said his October survey found 73 percent of voters are open to raising taxes on the wealthy in order to restore funding to essential services that have been cut, such as education, health care and public safety, while 24 percent said they’re not and 3 percent said they don’t know.

When read a title and summary for their proposal that the proponents believe is similar to what the Attorney General’s office will prepare, 67 percent said they would tend to vote yes – including 37 percent who gave a definite yes – while 24 percent said they would tend to vote no, with 15 percent a definite no. “I have never in my career seen such strong numbers for a title and summary poll for a proposed ballot measure,” Tulchin said.

Support for the plan is at 84 percent among Democrats, 68 percent among decline-to-state or third-party voters, and 45 percent among Republicans, he said. “The fact that it can draw bipartisan support puts it with the best chance of winning.”

In contrast, only 36 percent (14 percent definite) said they would vote for a plan including a 1 percent sales-tax hike and a 0.25 percent income tax hike, while 62 percent are opposed (with 45 percent a definite “no”). “That dog won’t hunt,” Tulchin said.

And the idea – advanced last month by the Think Long Committee – of lowering the state’s sales tax rate for goods but extending the tax to services such as dry cleaning, auto repair, accounting and law say 40 percent support (16 percent definite) and 45 percent opposition (26 percent definite). Tulchin called that “another dead end.”

Lots more, after the jump…

Courage Campaign founder and chairman Rick Jacobs said the coalition’s plan presents a “popular and populist movement to re-engage the state” as opposed to “the classic back-room deal” represented by the as-yet-unfiled Think Long Committee measure.

“We’ve been talking with the governor’s office from the very beginning of our work, we’ve been extremely transparent” and have shared polling data, Jacobs added. “The conversations that are going on for people who are looking at progressive measures should all lead to the same point, we hope, which is that this is the one that has the best chance of passing.”

Jacobs said having so many proposed measures to raise revenue is “a good sign,” but “we should all coalesce around one measure, and we think this is the measure.”

Asked who might bankroll the measure, Pechthalt replied “we are in discussions with people who have means” but will be “an effort of labor and community.” He added that the coalition is acting where lawmakers have failed to do so: “It would be comforting to feel like elected leaders both in Sacramento and in Washington were dealing with these profound political and econ problems, but what we’ve seen is an inability to deal with what’s really a crisis situation.”

I’ve reached out to the governor’s office and the California Republican Party for their perspectives on this, and will update this item with their replies if and when I receive them.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR senile columnist

    Yeah, let them rich folks take care of the kids, the poor, the old, the disabled, roads, cops, all the important stuff. And let the struggling middle class pay for everything else. Maybe the 1pc will go for the division of responsibilities.

  • Elwood


    Sun Rises in East!

    Bears Defecate in Woods!

    Poor Favor Taxing Rich!

  • John W

    “Don’t tax me. Don’t tax thee. Tax that man behind the tree!” Californian’s excel at that philosophy, starting 30+ years ago with Prop. 13. “Freeze me, freeze thee and stick it to the newbie.”

    We need something better than half-way pension reform. If the Joe Nation/Stanford group is right, 17% of the state budget will be going for pensions in a few years, with an unfunded liability for state and local pensions of about $40-50k per household. It’s worse at the local level, where payroll is 70% of total cost, with safety employees with enhanced pensions making up the biggest share of that. If, instead of pensions not even being a line item in the state budget, taxpayers received a separate invoice for their share of pension costs, we would get some serious action on that front.