Support for a special election on Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to extend temporary tax and fee increases has waned significantly in the past two months, according to a statewide survey released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California.

The survey -- polling 2,000 California adults by phone from March 8 through 15 -- found that although two out of three adults and the same proportion of likely voters had said in January that a special election was a good idea, only a little more than half of either group says so now.

Even if the election happens, support also has declined for the five-year extension of income, sales and car taxes voters would be asked to approve: Only 46 percent of all adults and likely voters now support that plan, a decline since January of seven points among all adults, and eight points among likely voters.

Brown's approval rating dropped seven points, from 41 percent to 34 percent, since early January among all Californians, and six points, from 47 percent to 41 percent, among likely voters. Californians remain more likely to approve (34 percent) than disapprove (24 percent) of how Brown is doing his job, but 42 percent remain unsure.

The PPIC poll's margin of error is 2.8 percentage points for all adults, 3.7 for registered voters, and 4.2 percent for likely voters.

"While many Californians still favor the approach the governor proposed in January, his plan to seek a budget solution through a June ballot has become a more difficult task to achieve," Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and chief executive officer, said in a news release. "Even if the budget measure finds its way onto the ballot, state elected officials' low approval ratings could limit their ability to persuade voters to go along with a budget plan."


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Brown's office seemed unfazed.

"It's clear that a majority of Californians want the chance to vote on tax extensions in June," Brown spokesman Gil Duran said. "Governor Brown is working nonstop to make sure the people's right to vote is respected, and he is doing his best to convince Republicans in Sacramento that voters deserve a chance to be heard."

PPIC's findings were markedly different from those of a Field Poll conducted last week, in which voters approved of Brown's job performance by a greater than two-to-one margin, 48 percent to 21 percent, with 31 percent voicing no opinion. Another Field Poll this month found 61 percent of registered voters prefer calling a special election on tax increases rather than leaving it to the Legislature, and 58 percent of voters endorse Brown's plan to extend taxes.

PPIC's survey found the state Legislature's approval rating remains much lower than Brown's: 24 percent approval among all adults, and 16 percent among likely voters, showing little change from January. As always, those polled tended to have higher -- though still not terribly complimentary -- opinions of their own individual lawmakers.

Most residents -- 68 percent of all adults and 83 percent of likely voters -- say the state budget is a big problem, but they're divided on how to deal with it, according to the PPIC. Among all adults, 38 percent say a mix of spending cuts and tax increases is needed, 37 percent prefer mostly spending cuts, 9 percent prefer mostly tax increases, and 7 percent say it is OK to borrow money and run a budget deficit. Likely voters are also divided: 41 percent favor a mix of cuts and taxes, 40 percent say mostly spending cuts, 11 percent say mostly tax increases, and 3 percent say it's OK to borrow and run a deficit.

Asked specifically about Brown's plan to close the state's deficit with about a 50-50 mix of spending cuts and voter-approved tax extensions, Californians are slightly more likely to favor the idea than oppose it.

The poll also shows Californians are increasingly likely to say that the amount of money spent on public employee pensions is a big problem. Nearly half of Californians and 56 percent of likely voters say the amount of money state and local governments spend on public employee pension or retirement systems is a big problem. Just 31 percent of all adults and 32 percent of likely voters said so in January 2005; those numbers had increased to 41 percent of all adults and 44 percent of likely voters by January 2010.

Most Californians (53 percent) and most likely voters (57 percent) say state government should reduce the pension plans of government employees as it looks for ways to balance the budget. And 71 percent of all adults and 74 percent of likely voters favor changing the pension system for new public employees from defined benefits to a defined contribution system similar to a 401(k) plan. That view not only is shared across party lines, but also has majority support -- 56 percent -- among current public employees, the poll found.

"Unfortunately Californians are drawing conclusions from the flurry of misinformation by anti-worker interests and right-wing factions seeking to undermine the middle class in California and across the nation," responded Lou Paulson, president of the California Professional Firefighters and member of Californians for Health Care and Retirement Security, a coalition of 1.5 million public employees and retirees.

"California public employees -- the people who teach our kids, protect our families, and keep our homes safe -- have been punching bags in this one-way conversation," he said. "Despite headlines about abuses of the system, the reality is that the average public pension in California is about $26,000 and many retirees are receiving less than $1,000 a month to pay their bills. Public employees have been willing participants in helping to solve California's budget woes by agreeing to increased contributions to their pensions, saving $400 million last year in the state budget, and negotiating at the bargaining table in hundreds of jurisdictions around the state right now."

Brown has proposed giving local governments responsibility for some services now provided by the state. The PPIC survey found at least half of Californians have an unfavorable opinion of the federal (52 percent) and state (55 percent) governments, but 54 percent view their local government favorably. However, they also want to retain control over what they pay in local taxes: 57 percent of all adults and 59 percent of likely voters favor Proposition 13 provision requiring a two-thirds vote at the ballot box to pass any local special taxes.

Asked about Proposition 13's overall impact, 56 percent of all adults and 58 percent of likely voters say it has mostly been a good thing for California, though opinions are mixed on whether the measure's property tax limitations have been good or bad or had no effect upon local government services.

Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics. Follow Josh Richman at Twitter.com/josh_richman.

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