University of Southern California

Election 2012

Source Alert

Brown’s Tax Initiative

August 23, 2012

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A slim majority of Californians favor enacting Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s ballot initiative that would raise taxes in order to avoid further spending reductions in education and public safety, finds a new poll from Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) and the USC Rossier School of Education. But the arguments against the initiative carry much greater weight with voters, imperiling the proposition’s chances of passage when Californians cast their ballots in November.

The PACE/USC Rossier Poll found that roughly 55 percent of Californians support Proposition 30, and 36 percent oppose it — making the poll one of several showing that support for the initiative is perilously close to the 50 percent threshold needed for passage. When arguments for and against Proposition 30 were compared, Californians were far more likely to agree with the initiative’s opponents. About 49 percent agreed with the statement that politicians should focus on wasteful spending before raising taxes, compared with 35 percent who agreed that voters should “take a stand against further cuts to schools and public safety, make the wealthy pay their fair share, and help balance the budget.”

Even among parents, 51 percent agreed the focus should be placed first on cutting waste before raising taxes to fund education and public safety.

“Californians are willing to spend money in order to protect their schools from spending cuts. But they also believe that state government is spending too much money on things that aren’t necessary and want to see that spending reined in before supporting the governor’s initiative,” said poll director Dan Schnur, who also serves as director of USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. “Jerry Brown can still pass Proposition 30, but first he has to convince voters that state government can be trusted with their tax dollars.”

The proposition would raise the state sales tax by a quarter-cent for four years and taxes on incomes of more than $250,000 for seven years to fund schools and public safety.

The PACE/USC Rossier Poll showed that Proposition 38, the other tax measure to fund schools and early childhood education, was losing, with roughly 40 percent of Californians in support and nearly 49 percent opposed.

When asked where they would spend the money if either proposition passed, Californians said they would direct funds to restore previous education budget cuts and to prevent further cuts, reflecting low expectations for a state system that has been subject to repeated funding cuts in recent years.

If the tax initiatives fail and further education cuts need to be made, Californians said they would choose to cut transportation of students to school (33 percent), increase class sizes (32 percent) or shorten the school year (31 percent) over cutting extracurricular sports and music programs (23 percent) or reducing teacher salaries (17 percent).

State Schools in Bad Shape

The PACE/USC Rossier Poll also showed that Californians think the state’s education system is in poor shape, with too much waste and bureaucracy and students not prepared for higher education or work after high school.

On average, Californians gave their state and local schools a grade of “C-.”

Nearly 42 percent of Californians graded the state’s schools with a “D” or “F,” and 26 percent gave their local schools those grades. When the PACE/USC Rossier poll was first conducted in May, just 20 percent of Californians gave their local school a “D” or “F” grade.

Californians were also asked to rank various aspects of the state’s public schools on a scale of 0 (worst) to 10 (best). Respondents gave the best mean score — a 5 — to the state schools’ ability to teach students the basics: reading, writing and math. They gave a mean score of 4.3 to “preparing students for a four-year university” and a mean rating of 4.3 to “holding principals, teachers and parents accountable for student performance.”

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