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Brown’s tax pitch reflects poll-driven message

January 12, 2011 |  4:57 pm

When Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his proposal to extend billions in taxes for five years, he did so in a way that was poll-tested to be most palatable to California voters.

Brown has said numerous times this week that the levies are necessary to avoid deep cuts to public schools.

Although California voters have rejected taxes in the last several elections, public surveys have shown they are more willing to pay more for specific services -– and schools are at the top of that list.

A May 2010 survey from the Public Policy Institute of California found that 69% of respondents would pay higher taxes to avoid cuts in K-12 education. Since Brown’s election, Democratic pollsters have been busy testing the concepts in the governor’s budget plan –- keeping $9 billion in annual sales, income and vehicle levies on the books through June 2016.

A December survey conducted by Democrat Jim Moore found support for keeping those taxes on the books “to prevent deeper cuts in public schools, public safety and healthcare.” Moore’s poll found that 58% of respondents favored the idea of maintaining the taxes proposed by Brown this week; 37% said they were opposed to the idea.

According to Moore’s survey, 74% of Democrats support the tax extension. Just 37% of Republicans said they were inclined to back the plan.

The  survey also found that voters are anxious about state employee pensions. The escalating cost of pensions was called a very or somewhat serious issue by 85% of people surveyed, including 73% of Democrats and 91% of Republicans.

Moore’s poll of 1,000 likely voters was conducted from Nov. 17 to Dec. 4 on behalf of the California Issues Forum. Moore says the survey's margin of error is 2.9%. Other interest groups, including the state’s largest labor unions, have also conducted private polls on the ideas put forward by Brown, but did not make their data available.

-- Anthony York in Sacramento