RICH PEDRONCELLI / Associated Press

Molly Munger talks about her proposed ballot initiative to raise income taxes for school funding after speaking Monday at the California Parent Teacher Association's meeting in Sacramento.

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Poll finds majority support for two of three California tax increase measures

Published: Friday, Feb. 24, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Friday, Feb. 24, 2012 - 7:09 am

Housing woes and high unemployment continue to burden California pocketbooks, but voters say they support higher taxes – albeit mostly on the rich – according to a new Field Poll.

In its first measure of voter attitudes toward three potential tax initiatives for the November ballot, the poll found two plans that tax the top echelon to pay for public programs each receive majority support.

A California Federation of Teachers initiative that hikes taxes on people earning more than $1 million fared best, with 63 percent in favor. Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to raise income taxes starting at $250,000 for single filers, as well as raise the sales tax by half a percentage point, won 58 percent support.

"The public must be perceiving the need to raise taxes," said Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo. "They did go through a number of rounds of budget cuts. I think most voters are aware that the budget is still out of whack."

Yet voters seem disinclined to raise their own income taxes. A third initiative that hikes income tax rates on a sliding scale, starting with individuals earning $7,316 in taxable income, won support from only 45 percent.

That plan is backed by wealthy civil rights attorney Molly Munger and the California State PTA, who launched a signature-gathering drive Thursday. In a conference call, Munger said she believes her plan can win because it provides the most money to education, eventually providing $10 billion annually.

Brown advisers have worked behind the scenes trying to douse the tax initiatives competing with the governor's plan, so far to no avail. They sharpened their knives this week by arguing that Munger had no chance of winning – and that her insistence on staying in the race would hurt the other measures.

"If all three measures are on the ballot, it's very unlikely that any will prevail, and there will be greater cuts throughout state government and especially on schools," said Brown adviser Steve Glazer.

CFT President Joshua Pechthalt said the poll numbers were encouraging and that his coalition is moving forward despite the governor's attempts to clear the field. "It's certainly not a sign to us that it is time to abandon our efforts," he said.

While CFT's plan polled best, Glazer said "it doesn't take into account the fact that they'll experience funded opposition to their plan, versus the governor's, which has broad-based support from labor, business and elected officials."

Republican lawmakers and anti-tax groups say it is unnecessary to hike taxes because the state expects higher revenues as the economy recovers. The state's three largest tax sources are projected to increase between 4.7 percent and 6.4 percent annually over the next five years, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office.

"We're going to make the case that our tax dollars are not spent well, including dollars on education, and there are all kinds of reform that should be done before raising taxes," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Jimmy Kwan, a Stockton police officer, supports the proposals floated by Brown and CFT. He and his wife, a schoolteacher, have three children.

"My wife has to do more work and deal with more students, and they're not getting more compensation," Kwan said.

"If someone fails as a student, then he becomes my clientele, so it works hand-in-hand," he added, referring to his law enforcement job.

But Kwan, a 41-year-old Republican, said he thinks there remain too many government benefits: "Some of these quote-unquote bad areas I go to, they drive nicer cars than I do and have big-screen TVs."

He said he didn't support Munger's plan because he feels "middle-class Americans are the ones paying for everything."

Besides assessing the initiatives, the poll dissected voter attitudes toward income and sales tax ideas.

On the income tax side, the strongest support – 40 percent – was for raising rates on millionaires in the way the CFT initiative does. The poll found that 25 percent prefer raising income taxes the way Brown's plan does. Only 9 percent favor a small, broad income tax increase. Twenty percent said there should be no hike at all.

On sales taxes, a 39 percent plurality said the state should maintain rates at the current level. Thirty percent said the state should extend sales taxes to services, while 25 percent said the state should increase sales taxes as Brown has proposed.

"A ballot initiative that raises taxes on oil executives who smoke while gambling on Indian reservations probably passes without too much trouble," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California and a former GOP strategist. "Where you run into difficulty is convincing voters to raise taxes on themselves rather than somebody else."

Gina Dunn, 25, a Loomis artist, said she supports taxing wealthy earners more to pay for schools. "Millionaires and billionaires are not getting taxed enough and people are getting tired of it," she said. "A lot of people are skipping out and paying less than they should, so I think it's important they pay their share."

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