Field Poll: Jerry Brown has voter support for extending taxes, but opportunity may not last
By Kevin Yamamura The Sacramento Bee
Published: Wednesday, Mar. 16, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Gov. Jerry Brown has voter support for calling a June special election and extending higher taxes, but his window of opportunity may close soon, according to results from the latest Field Poll.
The survey shows voters are more negative toward tax increases than tax extensions, and Brown has only a few weeks left to put his proposals on the ballot as the latter, poll director Mark DiCamillo said.
Still, DiCamillo noted the poll shows a majority of voters support an equal mix of taxes and cuts, as well as a special election to decide taxes.
"Generally, the governor's proposals have been in pretty much in sync with where the public has been coming from," he said. "The problem is that he needs the Legislature to get these on the ballot."
The Legislature has scheduled floor votes today on a budget plan that incorporates most of what Brown proposed in January to erase a $26.6 billion deficit. But there were few signs Tuesday that Democrats had secured the requisite two GOP votes in each house.
Nearly a week after his self-imposed budget deadline, Brown is still lobbying a handful of deal-minded Republicans to place his tax extensions on the June ballot in exchange for long-term changes related to pensions and future spending.
The survey of 898 registered voters was conducted by Field Research in conjunction with the University of California, Berkeley.
When the proposal to extend taxes on vehicles, sales and income was explained to poll respondents, 58 percent said they would support Brown's plan on the ballot.
Only 43 percent, however, said they would pay higher taxes to erase the deficit.
"Over the years, Californians have usually only been willing to increase taxes when they're being increased on someone else," said Dan Schnur, a veteran GOP strategist and director of the University of Southern California's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. "An extension seems less threatening. So the debate over that particular word choice is going to be at the crux of the battle."
Lawmakers may have already waited too long to set up a June 7 election, however, and DiCamillo said the poll results suggest that missing June altogether would be a mistake. Current, higher tax rates on sales and vehicles expire at the end of June, meaning opponents could legitimately call Brown's plan a tax "increase" after that.
Voters of both parties clearly want a chance at deciding the question.
More than six in 10 voters – 61 percent – said they want a special election on taxes to solve the budget rather than have the Legislature decide on its own. That doesn't mean those election supporters back Brown's plan; 56 percent of Republicans said they want to vote even though only 35 percent of GOP voters support his taxes.
"It is unclear why the Republicans think it is smart to obstruct the right of the people to vote on a budget solution," said Brown press secretary Gil Duran.
Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, said he's not surprised by the strong voter desire to have a special election. He is co-chairman of the "Taxpayers Caucus," a group of 30 Republican legislators opposed to Brown's plan.
"Of course, people want their voice to be heard, and the thing we're pushing for is that people should have more options than Jerry Brown's option," said Strickland, who has suggested a companion measure asking voters to cut taxes.
DiCamillo said the bipartisan preference for an election mostly reflects the poor regard that voters have for the Legislature, which received a record-low 10 percent rating in the midst of the state's longest budget delay.
"You bet," said David Henricks, a 63-year-old Auburn Democrat who responded to the poll. "Those idiots down there can't make up their minds. So leave it up to us to make it for them."
Henricks said he supports the tax plan.
"I'm sick of hearing on TV, 'We're broke, we're broke, we're broke,' " he said. "Fine, do something. I don't mind paying a little more, but I don't think they need to raise it too high."
Voters showed a strong distaste for cutting schools, law enforcement and health care for the poor, some of the largest areas of the state budget. They preferred cuts to state courts and prisons.
Strickland considered 58 percent approval for Brown's tax plan a "very low" number for a pre-campaign poll. He said support will drop once voters learn what the taxes cost an average family or hear about government benefits paid in the city of Bell.
Democratic consultant Andrew Acosta acknowledged that initiative backers prefer to start above 60 percent, but he called the findings a "good starting point."
"It shows that California voters are ready for the truth," Acosta said. "I think it shows California voters are ready to be part of of the discussion, take their medicine and hope it moves us in a better direction."