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Press Release · January 24, 2012

Strong Support for Brown Tax Plan, Opposition to School ‘Trigger Cuts’

But Most Also Feel State Could Cut Spending Without Cutting Services

SAN FRANCISCO, January 24, 2012—Strong majorities of Californians favor Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed tax initiative and oppose the automatic cuts that public schools will face if voters fail to approve the measure in November. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The James Irvine Foundation.

The initiative would temporarily increase the state sales tax and the personal income taxes of wealthy Californians, with the new revenue going to K–12 education. When read a summary, 72 percent of adults and 68 percent of likely voters favor the proposal. (The survey was taken before the attorney general released the measure’s official title and summary language.) Eighty-five percent of Democrats and 65 percent of independents favor the tax increase. Republicans are slightly more likely to favor (53%) than oppose it (46%). If the initiative fails, Brown says there will be automatic cuts to public schools. Seventy-nine percent of adults and 75 percent of likely voters oppose these trigger cuts, as do strong majorities of Democrats (83%), Republicans (67%), and independents (67%).

The tax initiative and trigger cuts are part of the governor’s 2012-13 budget proposal designed to close a multibillion-dollar deficit. His plan also includes spending cuts in welfare, child care, Medi-Cal, and other social service programs. Californians give these cuts negative reviews: 58 percent of adults oppose them and 39 percent are in favor. Likely voters are more closely divided (51% oppose, 44% favor).

When read a brief summary of Brown’s budget proposal that includes these elements—tax increases with increased funding for schools and cuts in social services—half of adults (50%) are in favor and 43 percent are opposed. Likely voters are split (48% favor, 46% oppose).

Californians hold these views at a time when most (62% adults, 60% likely voters) say their local government services have been affected a lot by recent state budget cuts. Most (55% adults, 59% likely voters) say that K–12 public education is the area of state spending they most want to protect from budget cuts. Far fewer adults choose one of the three other main areas of state spending: higher education (19%), health and human services (17%), and prisons and corrections (6%).

But while 40 percent of adults and likely voters prefer closing the state’s budget gap with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases—the approach Brown has proposed—similar proportions (35% adults, 41% likely voters) prefer closing it mainly through spending cuts. Indeed, Californians are far from happy with the way the state spends their money. Most (59% adults, 55% likely voters) believe state government could cut spending and still provide the same level of services. Most (59% adults, 62% likely voters) also favor strictly limiting the amount of money that state spending could increase each year.

“There remains a strong belief that the state government could spend less and provide the same services even as Californians notice local service reductions from state spending cuts and show early support for a tax increase,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

Split Roll, Taxing the Rich, Corporations Favored—Sales Tax Hike Is Not

When asked if they would pay higher taxes to maintain funding levels for the state’s four largest areas of spending, Californians are most willing to do so for K–12 public education (72%, adults, 62% likely voters), followed by health and human services (57% adults, 49% likely votes) and higher education (57% adults, 46% likely voters). Just 13 percent of adults and 12 percent of likely voters would pay higher taxes to maintain funding for prisons and corrections.

The PPIC survey asked separate questions about specific taxes that could be increased to help reduce the budget deficit, including two that are part of the governor’s tax initiative: income taxes on the wealthy and the state sales tax. Californians strongly favor (74% adults, 68% likely voters) raising the top rate of state income tax paid by the wealthiest residents. Most Democrats (85%) and independents (71%) favor this idea, while Republicans are slightly more likely to be opposed (52% oppose, 46% favor). But large majorities of Californians (69% adults, 64% likely voters) oppose raising the state sales tax. Majorities across parties are against this idea, although Democrats (54%) are less likely to oppose it than independents (71%) or Republicans (74%).

“The challenge the governor faces with his tax initiative is that one generally popular tax increase—raising personal income taxes on the wealthy—is paired with one generally unpopular one—raising the state sales tax,” Baldassare notes.

Among other potential tax increases that have been discussed, most residents (68% adults, 61% likely voters) favor raising the taxes on California corporations—a record-high level of support since PPIC first asked the question in May 2005. Most Californians (60% adults and likely voters) also favor the so-called split roll property tax, which would lift Proposition 13 limits on commercial property tax increases and instead tax this property at current market values. But most (54% adults and likely voters) oppose the idea of extending the state sales tax to services that are not currently taxed.

At a time when a number of proposals to raise taxes are being discussed, how do Californians feel about the fairness of the state and local tax system? Most adults say it is fair (7% very fair, 50% moderately fair), as do likely voters (4% very fair, 49% moderately fair). Fewer (41% adults, 45% likely voters) say it is not too fair or not at all fair. Across income groups, majorities view the system as fair (57% under $40,000, 58% $40,000 to $80,000, 55% $80,000 or more). While most view the system as fair, 46 percent of adults say they pay more than they should, 47 percent say they pay about the right amount, and 6 percent say they pay less than they should. Opinions among likely voters are similar.

Asked a fundamental question about the size of government, 51 percent of Californians would prefer to pay higher taxes and have a state government that provides more services, while 41 percent would prefer to pay lower taxes and have a state government that provides fewer services. Likely voters are more evenly split: 45 percent want higher taxes and more services and 48 percent want lower taxes and fewer services. Since PPIC first asked this question in February 2003, neither response has generated overwhelming preference.

Optimism Fades That Brown, Legislature Can Work Together

When Brown took office in January 2011, he had a job approval rating of 41 percent among adults and 47 percent among likely voters. Today, 46 percent of adults approve of his job performance—a new high—while 31 percent disapprove. The percentage of adults who are unsure of his job performance—23 percent—is the lowest since he took office. Among likely voters, Brown’s job approval rating is 44 percent, with 38 percent disapproving and 17 percent unsure.

The legislature’s approval rating remains far lower—at 28 percent among adults and 17 percent among likely voters. Californians view their own representatives in the assembly and state senate more positively: 36 percent of adults and 32 percent of likely voters approve of these lawmakers’ job performance.

Last January, most Californians (58%) said they thought the governor and legislature would be able to work together and accomplish a lot in the year to come. Today, there is less optimism: 44 percent say the governor and legislature will be able to work together and 47 percent say they will not.

In contrast, Californians are more pessimistic when asked this question about federal elected officials: 35 percent think President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress will be able to work together and accomplish a lot in the next year and 62 percent do not.

As He Faces Re-election, Obama’s Approval at 54 Percent Among Adults

As this election year begins, Obama has the approval of 54 percent of Californians, while 42 percent disapprove and 4 percent are unsure. Likely voters are split (49% approve, 49% disapprove, 2% unsure). His job approval among Californians has declined from 70 percent in February 2009, just after he took office. It is now the same as President George W. Bush’s in January 2004 (54%), when he faced re-election. A large majority of Democrats (81%) approve of Obama’s job performance and a large majority of Republicans (83%) disapprove. Independents are divided (44% approve, 48% disapprove). Nationally, adults are more evenly split on Obama’s job performance (47% approve, 45% disapprove), according to a recent CBS News/New York Times poll.

Just a quarter of Californians (25%) approve of the U.S. Congress, whose job approval rating sank to a record-low 20 percent in December 2011. Likely voters are even less likely (14%) to approve of Congress.

Californians are more positive about their own representatives in Congress. Forty-six percent of adults (47% likely voters) approve of their representative in the U.S. House. U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein—who faces re-election this year—has an approval rating of 47 percent among adults and likely voters. Senator Barbara Boxer’s approval rating is 46 percent among adults and 45 percent among likely voters.

Romney Leads in GOP Primary Race

In the PPIC survey, conducted before the South Carolina primary, Mitt Romney leads (37%) among California’s Republican likely voters, followed by Newt Gingrich (18%), Rick Santorum (15%), and Ron Paul (11%), with 17 percent undecided. To report the preferences of all Republican likely voters, the survey allocated the supporters of Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry to their second-choice candidates.

Just over half of likely voters (53%) are satisfied with their choices of candidates, and 42 percent are not. Among Democrats, 67 percent are satisfied. Half of Republicans (52%) and independents (51%) are not.

More Key Findings

  • Two-thirds favor state-local realignment —page 14
    Most Californians favor an idea Brown introduced in his budget plan a year ago: shifting tax dollars and fees and the responsibility for operating some programs from the state to local governments. Half are confident (38% somewhat, 12% very) that their local governments can handle the shift of some lower-risk inmates from state prisons to county jails, a change that began last October.
  • Few know where the money comes from and where it goes —page 16
    Sixteen percent of adults say they know a lot about how state and local governments spend and raise money, and 38 percent say they know some. But among those who say they have a lot or some knowledge, only 18 percent are aware that K–12 education is the largest area of spending.


The PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,002 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from January 10–17, 2012. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish according to respondents’ preferences.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.4 percent for all adults, ±3.8 percent for the 1,337 registered voters, ±4.2 percent for the 894 likely voters, and ±7.3 percent for the 308 Republican primary likely voters. For more information on methodology, see page 25.

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. As a private operating foundation, 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.