If Not For Schools, Would Brown's Tax Hike Be A Dud?

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A new survey finds voters disapprove of more education cuts. Is that driving support for Brown's tax hike?

Governor Jerry Brown will no doubt love the headline out of the brand new statewide public poll: 68% of likely voters say they support his November initiative to raise taxes and earmark the money for public schools.

But dig deeper into the poll and it's pretty clear that were it not for the linkage to schools, the Brown proposal would either be less popular... or fail to break the 50-percent barrier altogether.

The poll from the Public Policy Institute of California finds overwhelming support from Democrats and a thumbs up from 65% of independents surveyed for Brown's temporary income and sales tax hike, one he believes will bring in $7 billion a year. Even 53% of Republicans in the PPIC poll say they support the initiative.

But as several other questions in the poll make clear, it's probably not Brown's proposal that they love so much... but rather the consequences of its failure that they hate.

75% of likely voters told PPIC's surveyors that they oppose the $4.8 billion in automatic "trigger cuts" to K-12 schools should the governor's tax increase be rejected.

"There's no question that if this was just a general tax increase," says PPIC president and pollster Mark Baldassare, "that you'd have a whole different response."

And there's some data in the poll to help prove that point. 64% of likely voters (and 69% of all adults) say they oppose a sales tax increase -- and, well, the governor's plan includes a half-cent sales tax increase.

What they really like, not surprisingly, is a tax hike on the wealthy (74% of all adults, 68% of likely voters). Heck, they even support splitting commercial property tax increase protections out of the sacrosanct Proposition 13 (60% of both all adults and likely voters) -- and an initiative to do just that (PDF) was just cleared for signature gathering, though for now it's seen as a concealed weapon of labor unions in their bid to stifle fundraising for the ground zero initiative on political donations by paycheck deductions.

Undoubtedly, the governor's most liberal supporters will see that kind of poll data as proof that any one of the other tax initiatives that are out there is better than his. And Brown has yet to dissuade all of those groups from launching their own campaigns in competition with his.

For now, though, Brown gets some more good news about his effort -- one day after campaign finance documents showed his first month of dialing for dollars a successful one. In fact, his more immediate roadblock may be with the Legislature on budget cuts. Tuesday afternoon, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg announced that hearings on Brown's budget won't begun until the middle of next month with the Senate budget hearing on the governor's proposal to shrink and cut the CalWorks program scheduled for March 1 -- the very day by which Brown's plan assumes the actual cut would have been enacted by legislators.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • The09

    I think it’s also fair to say that had education not been so radically defunded these past several years, there would be no Jerry Brown proposal on taxes to poll about.

  • Speech85

    Everything’s been defunded radically in the past several years.  And most of the everything has been defuned a heck of a lot more than education.  The big difference with education funding is that it hits the likely voters (aka the middle class) as opposed to all the other cuts which have hit predominantly the poor and the disabled.

  • The09

    You’re right…I just think education is the only thing people feel up to fighting for.

  • Anonymous

    Lets be blunt. Fungibility (nifty word, says it all) of public tax funds makes any plea for an otherwise popular cause just another bunco scam. Remember how state sponsored lotto gambling was justified as dedicated just for the school system? The legislative bunco artists simply redirected non-lotto school budget funds to other pet causes for a net gain to schools of………ZIP or less!
    If you enjoy being played for a fool, you will pay well for it in this state!

  • Anonymous

    Ultimately, extra tax money wont matter. Fiscal junkies compose and vote on the state budget. The only actual way to restore responsive virtue in office, is to wholesale remove the current  legislature who will decieve you for the end result. In their minds, they just know what is best for you!