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Press Release · December 1, 2014

Most Want More Higher Education Funding—But Oppose Raising Student Fees or Taxes

Majorities Favor Some Tax Increases, Including Extension of Proposition 30

SAN FRANCISCO, December 1, 2014—Most Californians say the state is not providing enough funding for public colleges and universities. However, most residents are unwilling to pay higher taxes to maintain current funding for these institutions. And—amid debate over a tuition increase at the University of California—a record-high majority oppose raising student fees to do so.

These are among the key findings in a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

In the survey—a wide-ranging examination of California’s post-election political landscape—an overwhelming majority of residents (76%) say the state’s public higher education system is very important to its quality of life and economic vitality over the next 20 years. Asked about the current level of state funding for public colleges and universities, 59 percent say it is not enough (24% just enough, 12% more than enough, 6% don’t know).

But 56 percent of adults and 58 percent of likely voters say they oppose paying higher taxes to maintain current funding. A much larger majority of adults and likely voters—77 percent for each—oppose increasing student fees to do so. This strong opposition to fee increases holds across parties, regions, and demographic groups. In addition, 59 percent of Californians say that overall affordability is a big problem for students in the state’s higher education system. In contrast, far fewer (25%) see the overall quality of higher education as a big problem.

“Most Californians believe that higher education is very important to the state’s future and that their state government is not providing enough funding for it,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “But their concerns do not translate into support for tax increases to fund higher education, and they are even more strongly opposed to raising student fees.”

Strong Support for Raising Cigarette, Alcohol Taxes

The survey shows that Californians are receptive to some targeted tax increases. Slim majorities of adults (53%) and likely voters (52%) favor extending the temporary sales and income tax increases in Proposition 30, the measure passed two years ago, mainly to fund schools and community colleges. There are strong partisan differences on this question, with 71 percent of Democrats in favor of extending the tax increases and 64 percent of Republicans opposed.

Strong majorities of adults also favor raising state taxes on the purchase of cigarettes (74%) and alcoholic beverages (68%). A tax on the extraction of oil and natural gas fares less well (45% favor, 49% oppose). While there is bipartisan support for increasing taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, partisan differences are stark on an oil and gas tax: 58 percent of Democrats support it, but only 34 percent of Republicans do. Half of independents (49%) are in favor.

Asked about extending the state sales tax to services not taxed now, most adults (62%) are opposed. What if this extension was paired with a lower overall sales tax rate? Opposition drops to 48 percent.

Notable Increase in Optimism about the Economy

Californians are feeling more upbeat about the economy than they have in years. Today, 52 percent of adults say the state will have good times financially in the next year. The last time that more than 50 percent said they expected good times was in January 2001 (51%). Optimism today is higher in the San Francisco Bay Area (68%) than elsewhere (58% Los Angeles, 47% Orange/San Diego, 40% Inland Empire, 39% Central Valley). Among racial/ethnic groups, Asians (73%) are much more likely than blacks (57%), Latinos (50%), or whites (47%) to expect good times financially.

Asked to think ahead to 2025, 37 percent of adults say California will be a better place to live than it is now. Fewer today say the state will be a worse place (28%) or that there will be no change (29%).

But Californians’ concerns about the economy and their place in it persist. Residents continue to name jobs and the economy (29%) most frequently as the most important issue facing the state. Most adults (55%) say that when children in California grow up they will be worse off financially than their parents (37% better off). And when asked if the state is divided into haves and have-nots, a record-high share of Californians (68%) say yes. When they are asked to place themselves in one group or the other, 40 percent categorize themselves as haves and 46 percent say they are have-nots. What role should government play in addressing income inequality? A slim majority of residents (52%) say the government should do more to make sure that all Californians have an equal opportunity, while 41 percent say all people have an equal opportunity to get ahead.

Water, Budget Concerns Persist

Californians passed ballot propositions that deal with water policy and the state budget, and the survey shows that these issues remain a focus of concern. Water or drought is named by 23 percent of Californians as the most important issue facing the state—second only to jobs and the economy. Most Californians (60%) say the water supply is a big problem in their part of the state, and 60 percent say that the state and local governments are not doing enough to respond to the drought. Strong majorities of adults (70%) and likely voters (64%) say they would vote yes if their local water district put a bond measure on the ballot to pay for water supply infrastructure projects.

Majorities of adults (51%) and likely voters (55%) say the state budget situation is a big problem. The majorities who viewed the budget as a big problem were larger two years ago (68% adults, 74% likely voters in December 2012)—a sign that the passage of Proposition 2, the “rainy day” fund measure, has helped calm fiscal fears. Still, 59 percent of adults and 61 percent of likely voters today say the state budget process is in need of major changes.

“In the wake or Propositions 1 and 2 passing, water and the state budget remain on the to-do-list for Californians,” Baldassare said. “Majorities want their state and local governments to do more about the drought, and most believe that the state budget process is in need of major changes.”

Brown’s Job Approval at 57 Percent among Likely Voters

In the aftermath of the election, in which most incumbents won and few seats changed parties, Californians were asked to rate their state’s elected officials. Governor Jerry Brown, who won reelection by a 20 point margin, has a job approval rating of 54 percent among adults and 57 percent among likely voters. The legislature’s job approval rating is 41 percent among adults and 39 percent among likely voters, an improvement from two years ago (34% adults, 26% likely voters in December 2012). How much confidence do residents have that the governor and legislature can solve the state’s most important problems? Just 16 percent have a great deal of confidence, while 41 percent have some confidence, 29 percent have very little, and 12 percent have none.

Underscoring their skepticism of state government, two-thirds of Californians (66%) say state government can be trusted to do what is right only some of the time or never. And two-thirds (67%) say state government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves, rather than for the benefit of all people (28%).

Baldassare notes: “In an election year with record-low turnouts and status quo results, the public’s distrust in state government remains high and few believe that it is run for the benefit of all of the people.”

How much confidence do residents have in the state government’s ability to plan for California’s future and growth? Just 17 percent have a great deal of confidence, 46 percent have only some, and 35 percent have very little or none. When asked the same question about their local governments, the results are similar (19% great deal, 48% only some, 23% very little, 9% none). Notably, Republicans are much more likely to express a great deal of confidence in their local government (19%) than in the state government (9%) when it comes to planning for the future.

Divide on Health Care Reform Persists

As the second open enrollment period begins for the Affordable Care Act, Californians remain divided on health care reform. They are split on the law itself, with 46 percent having a generally favorable view and 43 percent a generally unfavorable one. And they are divided on how the state’s health insurance marketplace, Covered California, is working: Half say it is working very well (15%) or fairly well (37%), while fewer say it is working not too well (25%) or not at all well (14%). Blacks are the most likely to say the exchange is working well (67%), followed by Latinos (57%), Asians (54%), and whites (45%). When asked about the long-term impact of the law on the state, 37 percent say California will be better off, 34 percent say the law won’t make much difference, and 25 percent say the state will be worse off. Californians are similarly split when asked about the law’s long-term impact on the uninsured (37% better off, 34% not much difference, 24% worse off). When asked about the impact on themselves and their families, half (49%) say the law won’t make much difference, while 26 percent expect to be better off and 22 percent expect to be worse off.


When uninsured Californians are asked if they will obtain health insurance, an overwhelming majority (71%) say yes. Why? A quarter (24%) say they don’t want to pay the penalty, 20 percent say the law requires it, 16 percent say they are eligible for financial help, and 13 percent say a new insurance option has become available.

Support for State Action on Climate Change

President Obama has recently reached an agreement on climate change with China, and the governor has said that climate change will be a priority in his next term. Most Californians (76%) continue to say that global warming is a serious threat to the state’s future economy and quality of life. Most also continue to believe that California’s actions to reduce global warming will not reduce the number of jobs in the state: 43 percent say the result will be more jobs, 29 percent say there will be no effect on the number of jobs, and just 21 percent say there will be fewer jobs. Californians in the Inland Empire are the most likely to say that efforts to reduce global warming will lead to more jobs (56%), and those in Orange/San Diego are the least likely (36%).


This PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from the Blue Shield of California Foundation, the California Postsecondary Education Commission Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation, and the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,704 adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from November 10–17, 2014. They were conducted in English and Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.7 for all adults. For the 1,382 registered voters, it is ±4.0 percent; and for the 1,058 likely voters, it is ±4.6 percent. There is more information on methodology on pages 25–26.

Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has directed since 1998.

PPIC is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office.