06:32 AM PDT on Wednesday, March 16, 2011

By JIM MILLER
Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – Most California voters share Gov. Jerry Brown’s approach to solving the state’s budget mess, backing his call to extend higher taxes in a special election, according to a new poll.

The survey released today, a collaboration of the Field Poll and UC Berkeley, finds that 52 percent of registered voters favor a mix of cuts and higher taxes to close the state’s $25 billion-plus budget hole. That matches Brown’s description of his January budget plan.

Sixty-one percent of voters want to decide the tax extensions, something Brown proposed. And 58 percent agree with Brown’s call to continue temporary higher taxes on income, sales and vehicles for five more years.

“On three fronts, Brown’s positions are endorsed by the majority,” Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said. “Whether he gets there or not is unknown. But the public is behind him.”

With time running out on scheduling a June special election, Democratic leaders in both houses scheduled votes today on legislation that largely mirrors Brown’s plan. But there was no sign that the legislation will get the necessary GOP support.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, called the Democrats’ package “just another short-sighted tax-and-spend scheme.”

“The Democrats say, ‘Let the people vote,’ but what the Democrats really want is for the people to pay for government as usual,” Dutton said in a statement.

A group of five Senate Republicans that has met regularly with Brown issued a statement indicating that none of its members will support today’s legislation.

“Our key priorities continue to be a real spending cap that reins in out-of-control spending, pension reforms that fix an unsustainable system and regulatory reforms which will get people back to work. We remain united as a team in the fight to get these priorities implemented,” said the group, which includes Hemet Sen. Bill Emmerson.

Brown, meanwhile, lashed out at “the more extreme elements of the Republican Party” for blocking the election.

“And if it comes to a situation in America where letting the people vote becomes an act of terrorism, we’re in a very serious situation when a major party thinks that way,” Brown told reporters Tuesday before a luncheon speech to state probation officers.

Today’s poll finds that majorities of all of the state’s largest voting groups — Democrats, Republicans and independents — support the idea of having a special election.

Only a third of Republicans, though, would support ballot measures to extend higher taxes for another five years. But two-thirds of Democrats and independents would back the measures.

That bodes well for Brown in a special-election campaign, DiCamillo said.

“If this is going to be a very partisan issue, with Republicans opposed and Democrats in favor, then the balance of power is going to be left with nonpartisans,” he said.

Janet Schildmeyer, an independent voter from Hemet, said the taxes should be extended. People have gotten used to paying them, she said.

“I think it’s better doing that than cutting all these programs and wiping people out,” Schildmeyer, 66, said. Voters’ rejection of the taxes, she added, would let Brown show he tried to avoid making more cuts.

James Shaffer of Corona opposes Brown’s tax proposal.

“I vote no against all spending basically, because I don’t think they’re spending it right,” Shaffer, 83, said, adding that he thinks voters could be fooled into voting for the extensions.

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