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Voters back Gov. Brown tax measure in USC poll

August 22, 2012 |  3:39 pm

Gov. Jerry Brown gestures as he campaigns supporting Proposition 30 at James Lick Middle School in San Francisco Wednesday.

This post has been amended.

California voters largely favor Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative over a rival measure backed by wealthy civil rights attorney Molly Munger, according to a poll released Wednesday. But the online survey suggests that  the governor’s measure is perilously close to the threshold for passage.

The poll, conducted by PACE/USC Rossier School of Education, found 55% of likely voters support Proposition 30, the measure backed by Brown, and 36% oppose it.

That initiative would add a quarter-cent to the statewide sales tax through 2016 and impose an income surcharge on California's highest earners. The income tax increase, which would expire Dec. 1, 2019, would add, on a sliding scale, one to three percentage points to the income tax rates of individuals earning more than $250,000 a year.

The money raised by the measure — up to $8 billion next year — would prevent a $5-billion cut from primary and secondary schools and a $250-million reduction each in the state's two public university systems.

Proposition 38, the measure backed by Munger, held support from 40% of likely voters, while 49% oppose it, the USC poll found. The measure would increase taxes on anyone with an annual income of more than $7,316 for 12 years to raise about $10 billion a year, nearly all for education and childhood development programs.

The poll also suggests that the governor’s initative is susceptible to negative campaigning.

When those surveyed were shown campaign advertising -– in the form of a television ad in support for the measure and a radio spot opposed to it –- support for the initiative dropped to 52%, dangerously close to the 50% threshold needed for passage.

Ben Tulchin, a Democratic pollster who helped conduct the survey, said successful tax measures typically benefit from higher support in the months leading up to November.

Otherwise, it is difficult to survive both inherent voter reluctance to raise taxes and campaigning from the opposing side. But the poll “suggests they can do it if they out-resource the other side,” Tulchin said.

"Its prospects are partly cloudy with a chance of rain," Tulchin said. "It's still hanging on even after attacks, but by its fingernails.”

The poll also assessed Californians' reactions to public schools.The survey found that on average, Californians gave their state and local schools a grade of C- on the typical A through F scale. About 42% of those surveyed graded the state’s schools with a D or F grade and 26% rated their local schools with those grades.

The online poll surveyed 1,041 likely California voters between Aug. 3 to Aug. 7. Those surveyed were contacted by email alerting them of the survey and were verified as registered voters, said Merrill Balassone, a USC spokeswoman.

Respondents in these types of surveys are typically provided points that they can ultimately use to purchase gifts. The monetary value of points given for completing a survey is roughly 50 or 75 cents, she said.

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Correction: A previous version of this post quoted Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin, when referring to Proposition 30, as saying, "Its prospects are pretty cloudy with a chance of rain." Tulchin actually said “Its prospects are partly cloudy with a chance of rain."

-- Stephen Ceasar

Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown gestures as he campaigns supporting Proposition 30 at James Lick Middle School in San Francisco Wednesday. Credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

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