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Field Poll: California Voters Support Extending Taxes

SACRAMENTO (CBS/AP) - As a stalemate continues in the state capital over California Governor Jerry Brown's proposed budget, a new poll finds that a majority of Californians support a special election to let voters decide whether to extend tax increases to help close California's massive budget deficit.

The Field Poll released Wednesday said most registered voters surveyed also support closing the state's $26.6 billion budget deficit through a mix of tax increases and spending cuts, but are still reluctant to specify which state programs would support cutting.

KCBS' Anna Duckworth Reports:

The state Assembly and Senate both were scheduled to vote on the budget package Wednesday afternoon, although there was no sign the Democratic governor had struck a deal with Republicans over his plan to cut about $12.5 billion in spending and ask voters in a June special election to extend sales, income and vehicle taxes.

If all Democrats approve the plan, it would need at least two Republican votes in each house to pass.

KCBS' Phil Matier:

Lawmakers already missed Brown's previous deadline to pass a package by last week, putting in jeopardy his plan to hold a special election in June, before the final taxes expire.

The Field Poll found 58 percent of registered voters said they would vote to maintain the taxes for five additional years as Brown has proposed if such an election were held today; 39 percent opposed the taxes and said they would vote to return them to previous levels.

A slightly higher margin of would-be voters said they prefer the Democratic governor's approach of a ballot measure over letting the Legislature act to solve the budget deficit alone.

But California's infamously fickle voters proved true to their conflicted nature, professing support for deep cuts but balking at areas of state spending where they could be made. The poll found support for cutting just two out of 14 areas of state government spending: courts and prisons. Voters strongly opposed cutting money for public schools, law enforcement, health care for low-income and disabled Californians, higher education, child care and mental health programs.

Republican leaders have refused to let the tax vote move forward and face increasing pressure from conservatives within their party.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, on Tuesday called the budget plan "just another short-sighted tax-and-spend scheme."

"It does nothing to fix the state's budget crisis or put Californians back to work. The Democrats say, 'Let the people vote,' but what the Democrats really want is for the people to pay for government as usual," he said.

Brown said Tuesday he is particularly troubled by a conservative faction within the state Republican party that wants to label as a traitor any lawmaker who votes for the governor's plan.

"Unfortunately, now the more extreme elements of the Republican party are about to brand any Republican legislator a terrorist and some evil being if they give the people the right to vote," Brown said. "And if it comes to a situation in America where letting the people vote becomes an act of terrorism, we're in a very serious situation when a major party thinks that way."

The state GOP is scheduled to hold its spring convention in Sacramento this weekend. Republican lawmakers who might be inclined to compromise on the budget are reluctant to do so ahead of the convention, where they would be ostracized by party leaders and die-hard conservatives.

The Field Poll also found voters oppose Brown's proposal to transfer taxes collected for two programs to the state's general fund: about $1 billion for early childhood development programs collected under Prop. 10 and about $861 million in taxes for mental health services collected under Prop. 63.

The poll surveyed 898 registered voters by landline and cellular telephone from Feb. 28 through March 14. The poll has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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