Survey shows unwillingness to pay higher taxes for higher education

Though the majority of California residents show significant concern for the state’s higher education system and feel it is heading in the wrong direction, most are not willing to pay more taxes in order to increase its funding, according to a survey published Wednesday.

The annual survey, conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, polled over 2,500 Californians in five languages to measure sentiments on student debt and tuition, out-of-state admissions and approval ratings for Gov. Jerry Brown.

While 65 percent of those surveyed said they believe a lack of funding has significantly affected California institutions, an even larger majority agreed that more should be spent on higher education in general. Residents surveyed seemed to come to a general consensus on this point but showed little support for methods to find alternate revenue streams.

“We found 52 percent of the sample said they would oppose paying higher taxes,” said Sonja Petek, project manager of the survey. “This is certainly something we’ve found in other surveys, where people aren’t willing to make the sacrifices themselves to make up for the fiscal situation.”

Petek said this may be due to the fact that residents, like California’s colleges, have also suffered due to tough economic times following the 2008 recession. However, increasing taxes on behalf of higher education predictably garnered varying levels of support across party lines — 63 percent of Democrats were willing to increase taxes to maintain current funding, while 71 percent of Republicans said they would not do the same.

Hans Johnson, senior fellow at the institute, said this finding reflects an ongoing conflict in public policy.

“This is a long-standing problem and issue in that people want services, but they don’t want to pay for them,” he said.

In addition to concerns regarding revenue, the survey found that higher education may have an increasing effect on citizens’ view of politicians. Although Brown’s general approval rating was 47 percent, approval for how he has handled higher education was only 29 percent.

“I think we will continue to see some effects on how people view their elected officials,” Petek said. “They’re in a tough spot because there’s not a lot of funding to work with.”

With trigger cuts of an additional $100 million likely on the horizon due to revenue forecasts that project a larger budget gap than expected, Johnson said these issues are far from resolved for the University of California.

“Even if there is a trigger cut, UC apparently won’t raise tuition, at least this year,” Johnson said. “But of course, if they don’t get the money, they will have to.”