Poll: Strong support for Brown’s tax plan

University of California advocates have at least one reason to be optimistic heading into the 2012 election season: a strong majority of Californians support Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax proposal that would prevent cuts to UC in 2013, according to a recent statewide survey.

The survey — released Tuesday by the Public Policy Institute of California — found that 68 percent of likely voters favor Brown’s proposal. If voters approve the measure in November, income taxes on the wealthy and the state sales tax will temporarily increase. If not, all public education systems, including K-12, UC and CSU, will face cuts in 2013.

The UC and the CSU would each be subjected to a $200 million cut if the initiative does not pass.

While the poll brings good news for supporters of greater public expenditure on education, Brown’s initiative is by no means sure to pass, said Henry Brady, Dean of UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy.

“The bad news for those who are in favor of this is that support (for ballot initiatives) tends to fall off as opponents begin running ads,” Brady said, noting that at least 60 percent approval is generally required at the outset in order for a ballot measure to be viable.

Brady said that while the poll “is somewhat encouraging for those who support extra revenues to fund the University of California,” it also reveals some of the measure’s vulnerabilities.

For example, Brady noted, opponents of the measure are likely to exploit Californians’ widespread resistance to an increase in the sales tax, which, at 64 percent disapproval in the survey, is the most unpopular aspect of Brown’s budget proposal.

The poll also showed that most likely voters believe the state could cut spending without reducing services. The image of the inefficient state could provide further leverage for the initiative’s opponents, Brady said.

Still, proponents of the ballot initiative have distinct advantages going into election season.

For one, many Californians are feeling the effects of the dramatic spending reductions the state has put into effect in recent years — 60 percent said their local government services had been significantly affected by budget cuts. According to Sonja Petek, a policy associate at the institute who helped design the survey, heightened awareness of budget cuts might have helped temper opposition to new state spending.

Brady agreed, noting that the fact that people are feeling the effects of cutbacks “gives Jerry Brown some real leverage.”

Brown’s generally favorable job ratings — 44 percent of likely voters approve of his performance, while 38 percent disapprove, according to the poll — are also good signs for supporters of the ballot measure, Brady said.

The UC Board of Regents and university administrators have not formally spoken out in support of the initiative, though the regents had generally positive feedback about Brown’s budget at their last meeting.

UC spokesperson Steve Montiel said in an email that the regents, who have discretion to endorse initiatives, will review proposed ballot measures at one of their upcoming meetings.

Additionally, although the poll found that 62 percent of likely voters said they were willing to pay higher taxes for K-12 education, only 46 percent said the same for higher education.

And while Brown’s tax initiative currently has broad appeal, public opinion could swing as election day nears.

“Nobody can predict what will happen in November,” Petek said.

Jason Willick covers higher education.