By David Siders
Published: Saturday, Jun. 9, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Saturday, Jun. 9, 2012 – 12:07 am

Five months before Election Day, public support for Gov. Jerry Brown’s effort to raise taxes hangs precariously above 50 percent, with confidence in Brown slipping.

A new Field Poll shows 52 percent of registered voters support Brown’s initiative to raise the state sales tax and income taxes on California’s highest earners, compared to 35 percent opposed.

The tenuous level of support reflects a six percentage point drop from February, before Brown combined his initiative with a more popular measure proposed by the California Federation of Teachers.

The poll, released today, is Field’s first measure of public opinion on the matter since the Brown-CFT merger.

“They still have a lead,” poll director Mark DiCamillo said, “but there’s not a lot of margin there.”

Brown has labored unsuccessfully since taking office to raise taxes to help address the state’s persistent budget deficits. His November ballot measure is at the center of his agenda this year.

The poll comes amid growing dissatisfaction with Brown’s handling of California’s now-$15.7 billion deficit. His public approval rating has slipped to 43 percent.

“This is a pretty serious matter for him because he’s trying to win the confidence of the public so they’ll pass his tax initiative in the fall,” DiCamillo said. “These are kind of ominous warning signals.”

Still, Brown’s tax initiative is faring better than a competing measure backed by civil rights lawyer Molly Munger and the California State PTA.

Registered voters are about evenly divided on Munger’s measure, according to the poll, 42 percent in favor to 43 percent opposed.

The poll’s release follows a disappointing election for Democrats and their liberal allies Tuesday. Voters in San Jose and San Diego approved ballot measures to reduce pension benefits for city workers, and a proposition to raise the state’s tobacco tax was narrowly losing Friday in a race that was still too close to call.

Brown called the pension votes a “powerful wake-up call.” The governor’s ability to enact pension changes in state government is considered significant to his ability to persuade voters of his commitment to containing costs. The Legislature is expected to take up his pension proposal this summer.

Jon Fleischman, a conservative blogger and former state Republican Party executive director, said the results of Tuesday’s election suggest voters are weary of tax increases and frustrated with public employee benefits.

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