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Survey Finds Support Slipping for Special Election on Brown’s Tax, Fee Proposal

The plan itself, to close a $26 billion budget gap, also has lost favor among Californians

Public support for a June special election on Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to extend temporary tax and fee increases has declined since he proposed it in January, according to a statewide survey released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California, with support from the James Irvine Foundation.

While two-thirds of all adults (67 percent) and likely voters (66 percent) said in January that a special election was a good idea, 54 percent of all adults and half of likely voters (51 percent) say so today.

Californians’ support for a special election has dropped across parties since January, when majorities favored the idea (73 percent Democrats, 64 percent independents, 55 percent Republicans). Today, 64 percent of Democrats, 57 percent of independents and just 34 percent of Republicans say it is a good idea.

Support also has declined since January for the package that voters would be considering — a five-year extension of temporary increases in income and sales taxes and the vehicle license fee to avoid additional budget cuts. Today, less than half (46 percent all adults and likely voters) favor Brown’s proposal, a decline of 7 points among all adults and 8 points among likely voters.

“While many Californians still favor the approach the governor proposed in January, his plan to seek a budget solution through a June ballot has become a more difficult task to achieve,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Even if the budget measure finds its way onto the ballot, state elected officials’ low approval ratings could limit their ability to persuade voters to go along with a budget plan.”

Brown’s approval rating has dropped 7 points since early January among all Californians (41 percent to 34 percent) and 6 points among likely voters (47 percent to 41 percent). Californians are more likely to approve (34 percent) than disapprove (24 percent) of the way Brown is doing his job, but 42 percent remain unsure of his job performance. Along party lines, 47 percent of Democrats, 42 percent of independents and 25 percent of Republicans approve of Brown’s job performance, but many in each group are unsure.

The Legislature has much a lower approval rating (24 percent all adults, 16 percent likely voters), similar to early January (26 percent all adults, 18 percent likely voters). Asked how their own individual state legislators are doing, 36 percent of all adults and 34 percent of likely voters approve.

How to Fill the Budget Gap? Californians Split

As California’s leaders grapple with a $26 billion budget deficit, most residents (68 percent all adults, 83 percent likely voters) say the state budget situation is a big problem. But they are divided about how they would deal with it: 38 percent of Californians say a mix of spending cuts and tax increases is needed, 37 percent prefer mostly spending cuts, 9 percent prefer mostly tax increases, and 7 percent say it’s OK to borrow money and run a budget deficit. Likely voters are also divided (41 percent a mix of cuts and taxes, 40 percent mostly spending cuts, 11 percent mostly tax increases, 3 percent OK to borrow and run a budget deficit).

When asked specifically about Brown’s proposal to close the deficit — about half through spending cuts and about half through voter-approved tax extensions — Californians are slightly more likely to favor his idea (48 percent all adults, 49 percent likely voters) than oppose it (41 percent all adults, 42 percent likely voters).

Most Support Public Employee Pension Reforms

As many states deal with budget deficits, public employee pensions have become the focus of intense debate. Californians are increasingly likely to say that the amount of money spent on public employee pensions is a big problem.

Nearly half of Californians (47 percent) and a majority of likely voters (56 percent) say the amount of money state and local governments spend on public employee pension or retirement systems is a big problem. In January 2005, just 31 percent of all adults and 32 percent of likely voters gave this response. In January 2010, 41 percent of all adults and 44 percent of likely voters did so.

Most Californians (53 percent) and likely voters (57 percent) say state government should reduce the pension plans of government employees as it looks for ways to balance the budget. In addition, strong majorities (71 percent all adults, 74 percent likely voters) favor changing the pension system for new public employees to a defined contribution system similar to a 401(k) plan from defined benefits. This view is shared by Californians across parties (80 percent Republicans, 72 percent independents, 70 percent Democrats), as well as regions and demographic groups. Even among current public employees, this idea has majority support (56 percent).

Local Government Viewed More Favorably Than State, Federal

Brown’s budget plan proposes giving local governments responsibility for some services now provided by the state. What are Californians’ perceptions of different levels of government? At least half have an unfavorable opinion of the federal (52 percent) and state (55 percent) governments, but a majority (54 percent) view their local government favorably.

At the same time, they want to retain their power over local governments’ ability to raise revenues: Majorities (57 percent all adults, 59 percent likely voters) favor the provision of Proposition 13 that requires a two-thirds vote at the ballot box to pass any local special taxes.

Asked about the overall impact of Proposition 13, majorities (56 percent all adults, 58 percent likely voters) say the measure has mostly been a good thing for California. Their views are mixed on the effect of the property tax limitations imposed by Proposition 13. A plurality of adults (32 percent) say these limits have had no effect on local government services, while fewer say the impact has been good (24 percent) or bad (25 percent). Likely voters’ views are also mixed (30 percent no effect, 25 percent good effect, 30 percent bad effect).

Californians Want National Focus on Job Creation

Nationally, economic policy and the federal deficit are the focus of debate. As President Barack Obama and Congress wrestle over the budget, a main point of contention is whether the government should spend to help the economy recover or focus on reducing the deficit.

About half of Californians (48 percent) say that if they were setting priorities, the focus would be on spending to help the economy recover, and 44 percent say it would be on reducing the federal deficit. Likely voters feel differently: 36 percent would spend to help the economy and 58 percent say reducing the deficit is a higher priority.

Californians do agree on one question: 62 percent of all adults and 64 percent of likely voters think Congress and the Obama administration are not doing enough to help create jobs.

Nearly all Californians say the federal deficit is a very serious problem (63 percent) or somewhat serious one (28 percent). When asked about three major areas of spending in the national budget, Californians hold differing views on which should be spared from significant cuts as Congress attempts to reduce the deficit:

» Medicare: 75 percent want to protect Medicare, the federal health program for the elderly. Across parties, demographic groups and regions, adults want to spare the program from significant cuts.

» Medicaid: 67 percent want to protect Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor. Partisan differences emerge on this question, with 77 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independents wanting to spare the program, and half of Republicans saying it is more important to reduce the deficit (51 percent) than protect Medicaid from significant cuts (41 percent).

» Defense spending: 51 percent of adults say it is more important to reduce the deficit than prevent cuts in this area, while 40 percent say sparing the program from big cuts is a priority. Independents (57 percent) and Democrats (54 percent) prefer to reduce the deficit than protect defense spending. Republicans are more divided (46 percent reduce deficit, 49 percent prevent defense cuts).

Who is doing a better job on efforts to agree on a federal budget? About half of Californians (48 percent) say Obama and the Democrats in Congress; far fewer (25 percent) say the Republicans in Congress.

Two months after Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives and with rancorous budget negotiations under way, a majority of Californians (56 percent) and likely voters (52 percent) approve of Obama’s job performance (38 percent all adults, 44 percent likely voters disapprove). A different story emerges for Congress. Most Californians (58 percent) and likely voters (69 percent) disapprove of its job performance, and there is bipartisan agreement on this view: 61 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of independents disapprove. Californians have more positive views of their own member of the House of Representatives. Half (50 percent all adults, 50 percent likely voters) approve; 32 percent of all adults and 37 percent of likely voters disapprove.

Asked about California’s senators, 45 percent of adults and likely voters approve of Sen. Barbara Boxer’s job performance. About half of all adults (48 percent) and likely voters (51 percent) approve of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s job performance.

More Key Findings

» Economy, jobs top concern: The economy and jobs are named as the most important issues facing California — as they have since March 2008 — by 53 percent of all adults. Far fewer mention the state budget (14 percent) or education and schools (10 percent). Gas prices are now mentioned by 4 percent. While most Californians say the state is headed in the wrong direction (59 percent), they are more optimistic than they were a year ago, when 76 percent expressed this view.

» Strong backing for legislative term limits: Solid majorities of Californians (61 percent) and likely voters (70 percent) say current legislative term limits are a good thing. Still, 68 percent of all adults and likely voters favor the general idea of an initiative proposing to restructure term limits that has qualified for the ballot.

» Majorities support pathways to legal status for illegal immigrants: Most Californians (65 percent) say illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States for at least two years should have a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status, while 30 percent say they should be deported. A majority (68 percent) also favor a law that would allow illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or attend college.

» Is the United States responsible for promoting democracy abroad? Most say no. Questioned before the United States and its allies launched airstrikes on Libya, most Californians (64 percent) say the United States does not have a responsibility to actively promote democracy around the world.

About the Survey

Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,000 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from March 8-15. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish according to respondents’ preferences. The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is plus or minus 2.8 percent for all adults, plus or minus 3.7 percent for the 1,328 registered voters, and plus or minus 4.2 percent for the 935 likely voters.

Click here to view the survey.


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