Dan Weintraub – For the Register
Sunday, December 16, 2012

Californians are suddenly feeling good about themselves. And their state.

The economy is showing signs of life, employment is rising, and the state budget – and the schools – are in better shape financially thanks to voter-approval of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to raise taxes.

All of that is fueling a level of optimism about the state and its future that hasn’t been seen in these parts for years.

A new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California finds that 44 percent of Californians say the state is moving in the right direction. That might not sound like much. But it’s the highest level of satisfaction since 2007 and up 30 points since the low point in July 2009, when just 14 percent of Californians were pleased with the direction of their state.

Satisfaction is highest among Latinos (54 percent) and Asians (51 percent) and among young adults. Older people and whites are less likely to be pleased with where California is headed. Sixty percent of whites surveyed said they still think the state is moving in the wrong direction.

Similar numbers emerged when the survey asked Californians about their outlook for the long-term future.

Forty-two percent said they believed California would be a better place to live in 2025 than it is today, a 17-point increase since 2004. Since that time, the PPIC reports, there have been double-digit increases in positive views of the future across regions, demographic lines and parties, with one exception. A majority of Republicans – 54 percent – are now pessimistic about California’s future prospects.

All of that good feeling is leading more people to cut some slack for the state’s political leaders. Brown’s approval rating has reached a record high, with 48 percent now saying he is doing a good job and 35 percent unhappy with his performance. Even the Legislature is getting some love, with 34 percent saying that lawmakers – collectively – are doing a good job. That’s the highest level of satisfaction with the Capitol since 2008.

But an undercurrent of unease still runs deep. Californians remain concerned about the budget and two specific issues the poll asked about – higher education and California’s water supply.

On the budget, while 46 percent are more optimistic today than they were before the election, 94 percent say the state’s fiscal condition is still a problem, and 68 percent say it is a big problem.

More than half –55 percent – say they think that, generally, we need a bigger government financed by higher taxes, while 40 percent say they favor lower taxes and fewer services.

But what kind of taxes would that majority support? The state just increased taxes on the wealthiest Californians and pushed the sales tax up by one-quarter cent on the dollar. Proposals to expand the sales tax to services and increase the car tax were opposed in this poll by large majorities. Increasing property taxes on business was the only tax proposal polled that won favor with a majority of adults.

And in a contradiction that has come to typify California politics and its electorate, strong majorities backed spending limits for state government.

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