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Californians upbeat over future, budget

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POSTED January 30, 2013 8:36 p.m.


SACRAMENTO  (AP) — Californians are more optimistic about the future of the state than at any time since before the recession and are giving high marks to Gov. Jerry Brown's budgeting approach after voters approved higher taxes to help balance the state budget, according to a poll released Wednesday.

The Democratic governor's job approval rating reached a record high 51 percent in the latest poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, with even a slim majority of Republicans giving a thumbs-up to his recent budget proposal.

The poll also found broad support for increased gun controls and changes to current immigration laws that would allow a path to citizenship. A majority support the federal health care overhaul that already is under way in California.

The percentage of adults who said the state is headed in the right direction was 51 percent, the first time a majority of people said that since January 2007.

Nearly half those surveyed said they expect good economic times in the next year, compared to just 35 percent in January 2012 and 36 percent in January 2011, the poll found. The support is tepid, though, with 40 percent expecting bad economic times.

"Part of it is people feeling confident that the budget situation is on the right track," said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy based in Palo Alto. He said he was surprised that Californians were so optimistic about California's growth, though, in the midst of national discussions over the debt ceiling and the so-called fiscal cliff.

Brown has been riding high since voters in November passed his Proposition 30, increasing the statewide sales tax for four years and raising income taxes on high-earners for seven years. The higher taxes are projected to generate an additional $6 billion a year.

The revenue enabled Brown to declare an end to the state's multibillion-dollar deficits, assuming lawmakers approve his budget proposal later this year.

His proposed 2013-14 spending plan does not restore money to some of the social service programs that have endured deep cuts in recent years, instead increasing funding for K-12 public schools by $2.7 billion and overhauling how that money is spent. It also dedicates $4.2 billion to pay down state debt and creates a $1 billion reserve.

Nearly 70 percent of poll respondents said they support the governor's approach to the budget, including 51 percent of Republicans. Nearly four in 10 said they would prefer to restore some funding to social service programs.

The Public Policy Institute interviewed 1,704 California adults by landline and cellphone from January 15-22. The poll has a sampling error rate of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for all adults, and higher for subgroups.

It also found:

— Two-thirds of Californians said they do not believe the government does enough to regulate access to guns, while a third said the government goes too far in restricting gun ownership. Two-thirds support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons.

— A record-high 55 percent of Californians support President Barack Obama's federal health care overhaul, up from 47 percent support last March, while 37 percent remain opposed. There remains a strong partisan split on the issue, with 76 percent of Democrats and 44 percent of independents supporting it, compared to just 19 percent of Republicans.

— The most important issues for the governor and Legislature to work on this year were jobs and the economy (31 percent), the state budget (17 percent) and education (17 percent). More than six in 10 still say the state budget situation is a major problem.

— A record-high 76 percent say illegal immigrants who already are in the United States should be given a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status, with only 21 percent saying they should be deported to their native countries.

— Seven in 10 Californians said they support a cigarette tax increase, although voters rejected an initiative to raise the tax in November; 54 percent favor raising corporate taxes and only 32 percent would back a proposal to expand sales taxes to services.


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