By Michael J. Mishak, Los Angeles Times
November 26, 2011

Reporting from Sacramento— As various California power players develop an array of tax initiatives to propose for next year’s ballot, they are reading the political tea leaves, hoping to discern how receptive voters might be in a sluggish economy.

While the proposals are still in their embryonic stages, deep-pocketed interest groups that could pay for ballot-measure campaigns say they’re heartened by recent public opinion poll findings and local elections.

A bipartisan poll conducted for the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles Times found that 64% of registered voters would be willing to pay higher taxes to boost funding for public schools. In municipal elections held throughout California on Nov. 8, voters approved 41 of 53 local tax, fee and bond measures, many of which required a two-thirds majority to pass.

“We can’t wait for the marketplace to start solving our problems,” said Josh Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, which is pushing for a tax on millionaires to help fund K-12 education, state universities and public safety. “We have to have government move forward now to make sure our bridges are not collapsing and we’re getting adequate funding for education.”

Other proposals would ask voters to pay sales taxes on services and effectively raise levies on out-of-state companies that do business in California but maintain their workforces and offices elsewhere.

Tax advocates, including Gov. Jerry Brown, are hoping California’s ongoing fiscal crisis will help their cause as the state braces for more service cuts.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office has said Sacramento will likely be $3.7 billion short of balancing its books in the current fiscal year. That will probably trigger a new round of reductions that could mean a shorter school year in some districts and millions of dollars slashed from public universities, child-care programs and services for the disabled. Even then, California could face a $13-billion shortfall in the next fiscal year, the analyst said.

A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 67% of Californians said state budget cuts have affected their local government services “a lot.”

But taxpayer groups noted that Californians have not approved a statewide tax increase since 2004, when voters supported a levy on those making more than $1 million to pay for expanded county mental health programs.

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