By Anthony York, Los Angeles Times
March 25, 2012, 7:11 p.m.

Reporting from Sacramento— California voters strongly support Gov. Jerry Brown’s new proposal to increase the sales tax and raise levies on upper incomes to help raise money for schools and balance the state’s budget, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said they supported the governor’s measure, which he hopes to place on the November ballot. It would hike the state sales tax by a quarter-cent per dollar for the next four years and create a graduated surcharge on incomes of more than $250,000 that would last seven years. A third of respondents opposed the measure.

Brown’s new plan, rewritten recently amid pressure from liberal activist and union groups that had a competing proposal, relies on a larger share of revenue from upper-income earners than his original measure. Correspondingly, it leans less upon sales taxes, which are paid by all California consumers. The poll shows that taxing high earners is overwhelmingly popular.

“These poll results illustrate that Brown was very smart to put together this initiative the way he did,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

Shirley Karns, 74, an independent voter from the Northern California town of Lakeport who backs the governor’s new plan, said the wealthy should pay more.

“Those who have an unbelievable amount more than those who do not should contribute more,” she said. “And on the sales tax, the more you buy, the more you pay. It’s pretty tough on low-income people who have to pay an extra nickel here and there, but we’ve got to get the money from somewhere.”

Brown reached a deal with a coalition led by the California Federation of Teachers to tweak his tax measure. In exchange, the group dropped its rival proposal — also aimed at the November ballot — which would have increased levies exclusively on incomes of more than $1 million.

The poll found that the now-defunct plan remains more popular than the governor’s tax mix. And the findings carry other warning signs for Brown’s campaign. Less than half — 49% — of those surveyed said California’s books should be balanced by a combination of cuts and tax hikes. Nearly as many — 45% — said the state’s taxes are already too high and the estimated $9-billion budget gap should be closed with cuts in government services.

“It shows this is a tough environment to pass tax increases,” said Stan Greenberg of the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, which conducted the survey in conjunction with the Republican company American Viewpoint.

Views of the governor’s initiative are split along party lines. Eighty percent of Democrats approved of it, while just 38% of Republicans expressed support. The measure also has the firm backing of independents — voters who state no party preference, who are more than 20% of the California electorate and whose support Brown will likely need to pass his measure. Three-quarters of independents said they liked Brown’s idea.

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