Californians upbeat on education budget, poll finds

January 31, 2013

Californians are expressing a long-lost sentiment: optimism. A new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found growing support for Gov. Brown, for his education finance proposal and for making it easier for local communities to pass parcel taxes to help fund their schools. 

Three-quarters of respondents said they support Gov. Brown’s proposal to give some of the new education funding from Proposition 30 to schools that have more English learners and low-income students. Source: PPIC. [click to enlarge].

Californians and their Government found that more than two-thirds of adults – 69 percent – approve of the governor’s overall budget proposal, including 51 percent of registered Republicans. Support for his plan to overhaul education funding is higher: 75 percent of those polled favor his proposal to send additional funds to school districts serving large numbers of English learners and low-income students.

Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the institute, attributed the enthusiasm for the funding measure to the state’s improving budget situation.

“With Prop. 30 passed and with the budget situation becoming more favorable, the governor is viewed more favorably and as a result, it’s going to just cast a more positive light on any of the budget proposals that he’s going to put forward because he’s had this success in convincing voters to support Prop. 30. So it’s all related,” explained Baldassare.

The governor, whose State of the State address last week was something of a victory lap, had good reason to celebrate. Although he didn’t know it at the time, his approval ratings in the PPIC poll are at a record high of 51 percent. A year ago 46 percent of Californians approved of his job performance and the year before that, when he took office, it was 41 percent.

A majority of people want to make it easier to pass local parcel taxes for schools, but they also want strict spending limits on the state to prevent another deficit. Source: PPIC. [click to enlarge].

The biggest surprise, even to Baldassare, is the approval rating for the State Legislature.  A year ago, 28 percent of respondents thought lawmakers were doing a good job, and 56 percent disapproved. This year, those figures stand at 41 percent and 42 percent respectively – the highest it’s been since it reached 35 percent in 2007.

Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, an Oakland-based research and advocacy organization, and a former assemblymember, was struck by how many people agree

that the threshold for passing a local parcel tax to help fund schools should be lowered from two-thirds to 55 percent.  He said it’s a positive sign that just months after passing Prop. 30, 57 percent of Californians want to make it easier for local communities to tax themselves.

“Those numbers being as high as they are so soon after a tax initiative is very impressive,” said Lempert.  He’s also buoyed by the fact that the poll found common ground on what the state should be focusing on in terms of education: fixing the funding system and getting the lower parcel tax threshold vote through. Lempert said he hopes the Legislature doesn’t squander this good will. “It’s really critical not to miss this opportunity,” he advised.

Cautionary answers

The appetite for new taxes is mixed, however. Only 32 percent of residents said they’d support extending the state sales tax to services not currently taxed, while 70 percent currently favor a tobacco tax initiative under discussion for the 2014 ballot.

Most Californians are confident that, if given more flexibility over how to use state funds, local school districts will do a good job managing money. Source: PPIC. [click to enlarge].

And despite their generosity toward Brown’s fiscal plan for the schools, Californians also sent a message through the survey that they’re counting on legislators and the governor to keep spending in check: 68 percent said they’d support strict limits on the amount that state spending could increase each year.

Baldassare said if lawmakers want to remain in the good graces of Californians they should pay attention to those findings. The voters are saying that even though they approve the budget plan, “they want to avoid a situation where we’re spending beyond our means, and they don’t want to be asked to pay higher taxes at this point. They’re looking for fiscal prudence,” he said.

That won’t be easy. After years of cuts, there will be a lot of pressure to use the extra money to restore programs and services that were cut, said Baldassare. “That’s the challenge that the Legislature and governor are going to have.”

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