Poll: Support slipping for Brown’s tax measure

Grim news for Gov. Jerry Brown: Support for his proposed November ballot measure to hike California’s sales tax and income taxes on the wealthiest residents is slipping, even after news of a larger-than-expected budget deficit.

The latest University of Southern California Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, conducted May 17 through 21, shows 59 percent of voters support his ballot measure while 36 percent oppose it. That’s a five-point drop in support from March, when 64 percent supported it and 33 percent opposed it.

The margin narrows further when voters are given arguments for and against Brown’s proposal, along with information – first announced by Brown on May 14 – that California faces a budget deficit of $16 billion, much higher than the initial projection of $9 billion.

In the face of these new numbers, 51 percent of likely voters agreed it’s “more important than ever to support Governor Brown’s proposal to temporarily increase the income tax on high earners. No one wants higher taxes, but we need to make these tough choices to protect public schools, higher education and public safety.”

But in contrast, 41 percent of likely voters agreed “the increased budget deficit shows clearly that state government does not know how to balance a budget or spend taxpayer dollars. It’s more important than ever to oppose Governor Brown’s proposal to temporarily increase the state sales tax because the money will just be wasted again.”

“Governor Brown and his advisors have argued that the prospect of difficult spending cuts would lead to increased support for additional revenues, but the ongoing news coverage of the state’s budget problems may be creating an obstacle for his ballot initiative as well,” said Dan Schnur, who directs the poll as well as USC’s Unruh Institute of Politics. “Voters have indicated a willingness to pay more for public schools and public safety. But they are also getting skeptical about whether their elected representatives can be trusted to spend their money wisely.”

Here’s a video of Schnur and Times reporter Anthony York discussing the poll results:

Brown’s proposed measure for November’s ballot would raise the state’s sales tax by a quarter cent – from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent – for the next four years. It also would, for the next seven years, create three new high-income tax brackets for those making more than $250,000 per year, the top 3 percent of California taxpayers. Of these new revenues, which Brown estimates at $9 billion but the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s office pegs at $6.8 million, 89 percent would go to K-12 education and the rest to community colleges.

Brown’s job approval rating stands at 49 percent, virtually unchanged from the March poll, but his disapproval rating rose from 35 percent to 39 percent.

Brown’s May budget revision includes spending cuts such as reducing state employees’ workweek by 5 percent, from 40 hours a week to 38. The new poll shows voters support this by a two-to-one margin – 60 percent to 30 percent – so long as public safety workers aren’t affected, in order to save an estimated $400 million. Latino voters were much less likely than voters overall to support the state workweek cut: Only 44 percent favored this, with 45 percent opposed.

But when told this cut would mean state offices are open four days a week, overall support for reduced work hours for public employees declined to only 54 percent, with 39 percent opposed.

The poll’s full sample of 1,002 registered voters had a 3.5-percentage-point margin of error.

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.

  • bob

    The State Legislature and Governor have failed the people. This was their job to take care of decades ago, and rather than performing their job they decided
    to do nothing and hope that someone else in the future would bail them out. Well, that did not happen and here we are, up s— creek!

  • JohnW

    This is a very equitable tax proposal. It boosts the income tax on upper income by 20-29% and the sales tax on everybody else by 3%. Good to see everybody chipping in to help.

    If this tax proposal passes, it will be an unmitigated disaster for the state. As some letters to the editor have pointed out, the income tax part probably won’t yield even half of what it is supposed to. If you’re making multiple millions and your effective tax rate goes up 25% or so in one step, your financial planners are guilty of malpractice if they can’t find lawful ways of mitigating that. So, we’ll end up with the worst of two worlds: Even higher taxes and little additional revenue to show for it.

    6% flat tax, with the first $25,000 exempt. No itemized deductions.

  • Elwood

    Bye-bye Brownie’s tax measure!

    Brownie couldn’t put together a budget for a meat market.

  • Truthclubber

    @1 —

    As much as it pains me to be on the same side as @2, I agree with his wish — since I have seen reports that California spending has increased by ~ 15% since 2008 — and I know of NO household whose spending (or income) has increased by that amount.

    No new taxes — until the leadership in Sacramento shows us what the actual spending curve has been over the past 10 years, and how that compares to how the growth of the economy of the state (for which all of the revenues depends) has been trending.

    If they can’t, or won’t, or it shows that spending has been exceeding California’s “GDP” for quite some time, then:


    Cut back programs or staffing levels back to whatever year we need to go back to, in order to get back to a real balanced budget, period.

    Then and only then can we begin the discussion of whether we need more revenues, and if so, WHY (and the WHY better not be “because our pension spending is out of control”…)

  • Rick K.

    Brown’s tax measure deserves to lose unless Sacramento enacts serious pension reform first. Californians don’t want to pour more money into a leaky bucket, full of holes created and guarded by special interests. S.B. 400, signed by Gov. Gray Davis in 1999, needs to be repealed to the greatest extent possible. We cannot afford to give retired government employees $100,000 a year for life. Brown and his public union allies (who helped get him into office) are using elementary school children as hostages to try to get us to increase our taxes. Their real agenda is to protect the over-generous pensions for CHP officers, firefighters and prison guards. Note that these “public safety” special interests so dominate Sacramento that not even Meg Whitman had the courage to take them on during the last election. We should not have to pay higher taxes so that government workers can retire at age 50 to their beach house and buy expensive toys with sky-high pensions that the discredited Gray Davis gave away to them. No public pension reform, no new taxes. Period.

  • JohnW

    In complete contrast to my position on federal taxes, I wouldn’t support the income tax proposals even if the governor and legislature suddenly eliminated defined benefit pensions for current and future state and local employees and did everything to make this the most business-friendly state in the country. First, if we did those things, we wouldn’t need the increases. Second, and more importantly, we don’t have any room left at the top for tax increases without shooting ourselves in the foot even more than we already have. It may be politically unrealistic, but we need to hit the reset button on all major taxes, especially income, property and business taxes.

  • dc1

    this measure is probably the worst policy measure that could have been proposed. this state already imposes one of the highest tax burdens in the country, and look at the fiscal mess we are in. adding yet another massive tax increase on top of already too high taxes will only accelerate the decline in california’s economy. the tax revenues will not be there as they never have been before, and in the process we will be encouraging our businesses and successful individuals to leave the state. if you look at the actual numbers, california has done nothing to cut overall spending. funding for schools and the parks is down, but state employment levels have not come down at all, nor have bloated and inefficient wages, benefits, work rules and of course pensions. i for one will vote against any tax increase until the state shows it respects the taxpayers of this state. there are tons of cuts that can be made but they take real leadership, and we seem to have none of that in sacramento these days.

  • Greg Andrews

    Rick K: ” . . . Brown’s tax measure deserves to lose unless Sacramento enacts serious pension reform first . . . ” Pension reform first? Dude – kill high speed rail first, THEN deal with pension reform. CA occasionally admits that HSR has a $100 billion and rising price tag, so double that to cover the interest on the borrowed money. Add an extra $50 billion for anticipated, undisclosed fraud, embezzlement, and skim, and high speed rail totals out at a quarter trillion dollars – a low-ball estimate – for which Crusty will use his permanent, “temporary” tax increases.

  • JohnW

    Re: #8

    Completely agree with the need to torpedo HSR. However, to date, none of the state’s current or structural deficit is accounted for by HSR. Pensions aren’t the only problem, but they are already crowding out the services that our taxes are supposed to pay for. Moreover, pensions that pay out three times the lifetime benefits that a high quality 401k plan or traditional private sector defined benefit pension would pay undermines the legitimacy of government. And that doesn’t even include lifetime heath care benefits.