SACRAMENTO (AP) — A poll released Wednesday finds public support is slipping for Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to ask voters to extend a series of taxes to help ease California’s $26.6 billion deficit.
The poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that half of likely voters think a special election is a good idea, while fewer than half favor the Democratic governor’s proposal to extend temporary sales, income and vehicle taxes — an 8-point drop since January.
Brown wants to ask voters in a June special election to extend the tax increases for another five years and cut about $12.5 billion in spending to help address the budget shortfall. But time is running out for the governor, who needs at least two Republican votes in each house of the state Legislature to get the tax proposal on the ballot.
Two-thirds of likely voters told Public Policy Institute pollsters in January that a special election was a good idea, but only half of likely voters say that today.
“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,” institute president Mark Baldassare said.
After successive years of multibillion-dollar budget shortfalls, many of which were never adequately solved, 83 percent of likely voters told pollsters they believe the state’s fiscal crisis is a big problem but are split over how to deal with it.
The poll found four in 10 voters believe a mix of spending cuts and tax increases — which is exactly what the governor has proposed — is needed.
The same number say the deficit should be closed mostly through spending cuts, while one in 10 believes it should be mostly through tax increases. Only 3 percent of likely voters say it’s OK to borrow money and run a deficit, the poll found.
At the same time, Brown’s job-approval rating among likely voters has dropped 6 points since January, to 41 percent. The poll found just 16 percent approve of the state Legislature’s performance.
The survey also asked voters about public employee pensions, which have become a target of Republicans across the country, who say they are too generous and unaffordable over the long run. That public discourse has affected Californians’ attitudes, the poll found, with 56 percent of likely voters saying the amount of money state and local governments spend on public employee pension or retirement systems is a big problem.
Just 32 percent of likely voters agreed with that statement when the institute asked it in January 2005.
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which covers state workers and many local government employees, has estimated a shortfall of about $75 billion, while the pension fund for California teachers has a $40 billion shortfall. A recent report by the Little Hoover Commission, an independent state auditing agency, said some California cities will have to devote from one-third to one-half of their budgets to support retiree benefits in the near future.
Nearly three-quarters of likely voters favor changing the pension system for new public employees. The survey found that even 56 percent of those who identified themselves as public employees agreed with setting up a “two-tier” system.
President Barack Obama still receives a favorable job rating from 52 percent of Californians, while 69 percent disapprove of the job Congress is doing. That negative feeling holds among Democrats, Republicans and independent voters.
The institute interviewed 935 likely voters by telephone in English and Spanish from March 8-15. The poll has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points for likely voters, lower for samples of all adults and registered voters.
By Juliet Williams