Capitol Alert

Opposition to death penalty grows in California as Gavin Newsom halts executions

President Donald Trump accused Gov. Gavin Newsom “defying voters” by suspending California’s death penalty, but new polling suggests Californians are coming over to the Democratic governor’s side.

A record share of Californians told pollsters the state’s worst murderers should face life in prison instead of execution, according to a Public Policy Institute of California survey, which gauged opinions on issues from housing to pension liability.

Newsom faced harsh criticism from Republican leaders when he announced earlier this month he won’t allow executions during his term. Californians voted in 2016 not only to uphold the state’s death penalty, but also to speed up executions.

But the Public Policy Institute’s results indicate if voters are asked again, they might side with Newsom. The poll found 62 percent of California adults and 58 percent of likely voters prefer life imprisonment to capital punishment for those convicted of first-degree murder.

The nonprofit’s March survey also found two in three Californians say housing costs are a big problem in their communities, a new record. Nearly half say they’re considering moving because of high housing prices.

“Housing affordability is considered a problem in every major region today,” PPIC President Mark Baldassare said in a statement. “This is causing many Californians to think seriously about moving out of the state.”

After pollsters read respondents a short description of the governor’s plan to spend roughly $1.8 billion on tax credits and other incentives for communities to build more housing, 72 percent said they support the proposal.

Less popular is the governor’s plan to spend $5.3 billion beyond what law requires to prepay pension liabilities to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and California State Teachers’ Retirement System.

California faces big unfunded liabilities in its pension funds for teachers and state workers. CalPERS and CalSTRS each has about 70 percent of what it owes public employees and retirees, and each is asking government agencies to pay more money to fund their pension obligations.

Just 47 percent of California adults say they support the governor’s proposal to spend down part of that debt.

Four out of five Californians say they like Newsom’s plan to increase spending on preventing and fighting wildfires. About three in four say they support his plan to expand the state’s tax credit program for low-income workers.

Just over half support scaling back high-speed rail and the Delta tunnels project, which Newsom endorsed in his State of the State speech last month.

PPIC surveyed 1,706 California adults between March 10 and March 19.

Newsom’s approval rating is 45 percent, about where it was last time PPIC surveyed Californians in January.

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