SACRAMENTO (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown said he is confident voters will approve his November tax initiative as a way to avoid further cuts to public schools, even though a poll published Wednesday shows the measure has only a narrow margin of support.
The Public Policy Institute of California survey found that 54 percent of likely voters are inclined to vote yes on the proposed tax hike, which has two months to qualify for the ballot, while 39 percent are opposed.
That's a relatively low mark for an initiative this far in advance of an election, said polling director Mark Baldassare, who also serves as president and CEO of the institute. Generally, support for initiatives tends to decline as campaigning heats up closer to an election.
In a telephone interview, Brown dismissed such a possibility as a "conventional thought" not always borne out in campaigns. Overall, he said the poll results were positive.
"Anytime you're asking for a tax, you have your work cut out for you," he told The Associated Press. "This is going to be a very competitive campaign between yes and no, and I'm going to do all I can because I know that the vast majority of the people don't want the cuts."
An overwhelming majority of likely voters said they believe the budget remains a big problem for the state, and 78 percent oppose automatic spending cuts to K-12 education that will take effect if voters reject Brown's tax initiative this fall, the poll showed.
Conducted in early April, the poll is the first time the institute has taken voters' temperature since Brown struck a deal with supporters of a rival ballot measure involving a tax on millionaires and incorporated that proposal into his own.
The current measure would raise the state's sales tax by a quarter-cent for five years and increase income taxes on a sliding scale for seven years on those who make more than $250,000 annually. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimates the higher taxes would generate $6.8 billion in additional revenue in the upcoming fiscal year.
About two-thirds of voters favor higher income taxes on the wealthy, while 52 percent oppose raising the state sales tax, the poll showed. Baldassare noted that the slim majority support for Brown's tax initiative was within the survey's margin of error.
"There's by no means the kind of support at this stage, where you haven't even heard from the other side, that you can feel with confidence this is something people are supporting," Baldassare said.
Brown rejected the notion that it might have been politically unwise to include the sales tax component in his measure. He has said that he sought that increase because he believed it was important to have all Californians participate in what he hopes will be a solution to the state's ongoing fiscal trouble.
"I think it should be broad-based," he said. "That's not a mistake; just look at the poll."
Brown said he believes voters will come around when they begin to understand the deep education cuts that would be triggered if they reject the initiative.
In the survey, more than 7 of every 10 likely voters said the state budget situation was a "big problem" for California's K-12 schools. Baldassare said voters' views could evolve as details of the budget shortfall emerge over the summer.
Brown said the cost of the initiative campaign would depend on how much opposition emerges but added, "It's going to cost a lot of money."
The poll seemed to deliver bad news for a rival ballot initiative being proposed by civil rights attorney Molly Munger that would raise income taxes on almost all Californians to fund public schools. That proposal was opposed by 57 percent of likely voters, according to the poll.
The poll also found that likely voters did not favor local school bond measures or parcel taxes in sufficient numbers to win approval.
The institute surveyed 823 likely voters by telephone, including landlines and cellphones, from April 3-10. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points for likely voters.