Majority of Californians support Prop. 30, poll says

A recent poll conducted by the Policy Analysis for California Education and Rossier School of Education showed that California voters, by a slight majority, would support an increase in sales and income taxes in order to reduce budget cuts to public education.

California Proposition 30, which will be on the ballot in November, would increase the sales tax rate by ¼ cent per dollar for four years and the personal income tax rate for those with incomes of more than $250,000 for seven years.

“If it passes, the state will receive several billion dollars in additional revenue that will help prevent further cuts to education and other areas,” said Dominic Brewer, vice dean of research in partnerships and globalization at Rossier. “The state budget has essentially been built on the assumption that the extra revenue will be there, so there will be a scramble to identify new cuts if Prop. 30 fails.”

If passed, the proposition is projected to raise about $6 billion in additional annual state revenues for the next seven years. If the measure is rejected, the 2012-13 state budget would be reduced by $6 billion.

According to the poll, about 55 percent of Californians support Proposition 30 while 36 percent oppose it.

When opposition arguments to the measure were presented, however, poll respondents tended to agree with them more specifically. About 49 percent of people believe that state politicians should decrease wasteful spending before raising taxes.

“It’s hard for skeptical voters, who think there is still wasteful spending and too much state control of schools, to see specific examples of how the funds get used,” Brewer said. “Giving real examples for why more revenue is needed now will be essential — a general appeal isn’t likely to work.”

Some USC students said neither of these options seems especially appealing because the state of the budget has not left any easy choices.

“When you’re just hearing about these things without really being in politics, what you hear is that there are multiple taxes on the ballot,” said Cat Shieh, a junior majoring in political science who works for the Unruh Institute of Politics. “Who likes taxes? Nobody.”

The measure would increase personal income tax rates for the top three income tax brackets, consisting of those who make more than $250,000 annually. The exact sales tax rate increase would differ by locality. The average sales tax rate is  currently 8.13 percent.

“Everybody has a piece in this because that’s what separating the three tax brackets does,” Shieh said. “That will make the issue a little less partisan because everyone understands the situation at hand with the budget and everybody would have to be a part of the solution.”

California voters tend to agree that improvements need to be made to an education system that has dealt with drastic cuts in recent years. When asked what grade they would give public schools in the state, many respondents to the poll said that they would give their local schools a C.

If Prop. 30 passes, voters would most like to see programs that have been cut restored to schools and future budget cuts prevented. If the tax initiative fails, those polled said that they would prefer to deal with the budget reduction by eliminating transportation of students to schools, increasing class sizes and shortening the school year.

“There will be limited additional funding for state services, including education, for a period of time,” said Lawrence Picus, vice dean for faculty affairs at Rossier, on the implications of passing Prop. 30. “That will help limit the impact of state budget deficits on the provision of important government services to children and to others across the state. If it does not pass, school districts will have to make further cuts in their budgets in the middle of the school year.”

Though many said voters will face a tough choice in November, some experts said they believe the poll results will prove true.

“The state remains in a severe budget crisis despite years of sustained cuts to public services,” said Morgan Polikoff, assistant professor of education at Rossier. “Without the money, even more draconian cuts will have to be made. Perhaps voters are coming around to the idea that starving the state leads to worse results for everyone.”