In the face of a new statewide poll that shows support for Proposition 30 dropping below 50 percent for the first time, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday vowed that he will do "everything that's humanly possible" between now and Election Day to try to put it over the top.
In an interview with The Star, Brown said that if voters reject the temporary tax increases sought by Proposition 30 he and the Legislature will have no option other than to implement the $6 billion in designated cuts to education that will be triggered.
"The stakes are serious. There's no more money sitting around somewhere," he said. "Nobody likes trigger cuts, but the cookie jar is empty. For too long, it's been filled with borrowed money and accounting gimmicks. That day is over."
A poll released late Wednesday by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California shows Proposition 30 leading 48 percent to 44 percent. Given the poll's 4 percent margin of error, the result reflects a virtual tie.
It was the first time the polling organization's monthly survey has shown support dropping below 50 percent, and it reflects a decline from 52 percent support recorded in September.
"We know the 'no' vote on taxes always rises as you get closer to the election," Brown said in response to the poll's findings.
In the budget signed by Brown this summer, he and lawmakers implemented cuts in health care and social-service programs but kept school funding essentially level. But that arrangement is dependent upon passage of Proposition 30. If it fails, the budget requires $5.5 billion in cuts to K-14 education and $500 million more to public colleges and universities.
"This is on or off," Brown said of the trigger cuts. "It's not talk. It's built into the law."
Brown reiterated a point he made earlier in the campaign -- that he will consider the outcome of the vote the final say.
"Vox populi, vox Dei," he said then, reciting the Latin phrase that means "the voice of the people is the voice of God."
"I'm a guy who doesn't like cutting," he said, "but I will exercise fiscal discipline. People have lived so long with phony tricks and budget legerdemain that it's hard to imagine."
Proposition 30 would implement a seven-year increase in the top income tax rate for couples with annual incomes of $500,000 or greater. In addition, it includes a four-year, one-quarter percent increase in the sales tax. In the current year, under the terms of the existing budget, all of the money would in effect go to education.
In future years, under the provisions of Proposition 98, the constitutional guarantee that sets a minimum level for school funding based on largely on state revenues, the bulk of the money would go to schools but much of the revenue would also be available for other state programs.
"This is really third-grade arithmetic," Brown said. "Money goes into the schools from the most affluent Californians. It goes from the top of the pyramid to schools and colleges."
About 70 percent of the revenues generated by Proposition 30 would come from the income tax increases for upper-income earners. The rest would come from the sales tax.
For most Californians, Brown said, that would mean, "When they buy a $4 sandwich, they give the kids in schools and colleges another penny."
The PPIC poll surveyed 2,006 adults, including 993 likely voters, through landline and cellphone interviews from Oct. 14-21.
Its findings suggest the outcome of Proposition 30 will depend largely on the makeup of voters who turn out at the polls on Nov. 6.
While voter opinion overall is virtually tied, sentiment on Proposition 30 is sharply divided among partisan, age, income and ethnic lines.
The most striking difference is between Democrats and Republicans, whose views on the measure are mirror images: 70 percent of Democrats support it, 70 percent of Republicans oppose it.
But the poll also shows extreme differences based on other factors:
- Among age groups, it is favored by 70 percent of voters ages 18-34, but only 43 percent of voters over 55.
- Along ethnic lines, the measure receives 70 percent support from Latinos, but 40 percent support from non-Hispanic whites.
- By income level, 54 percent of those with incomes of less than $40,000 support Proposition 30, compared with 45 percent from those with incomes above $80,000.
The poll also shows that all the other ballot propositions it surveyed appear to be in serious trouble.
It found majority opposition to Proposition 32, the measure to ban corporate and union contributions to candidates and also to prevent unions from spending for political purposes money collected through payroll deductions. It is opposed by 53 percent of likely voters, with 39 percent supporting.
That is identical to voter sentiment on Proposition 38, the other tax increase proposal to raise money for education -- 39 percent in favor, 53 percent opposed.
The other ballot measure surveyed was Proposition 31, a measure that would impose a variety of reforms in the way state and local governments do business. It is opposed by a 2-to-1 margin, although a high number of voters remain undecided. Of those who have made up their minds, 24 percent are in favor and 48 percent are opposed.
On national politics, the poll found President Barack Obama leading Republican challenger Mitt Romney 53 percent to 41 percent in California.
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