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Support Exists for Tax Hikes, Survey Finds

March 17, 2004|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Alarmed that the state budget deficit may cause cuts in local services, 61% of Los Angeles County residents are willing to pay higher taxes to maintain funding to schools and half are willing to pay more to protect health and human services, according to a new poll.

The survey by the Public Policy Institute of California and the USC School of Policy, Planning and Development found county residents generally more optimistic than they were a decade ago about the direction in which the county was headed.

But to avoid a loss of services that contribute to the county's quality of life, survey respondents said they were willing to consider higher taxes and fees.

"It speaks to the degree people are worried about the reduction of services that might come about because of the budget deficit in Sacramento," said Mark Baldassare, statewide survey director for the San Francisco-based institute. "They aren't willing to write a blank check to the governor and Legislature, but they also recognize that, for the quality of life in Los Angeles County, these services are important."

The survey, which involved telephone interviews with 2,002 Los Angeles County adults between Feb. 27 and March 9, also found that 70% of respondents were seeing the potential $14-billion state budget deficit as a "big problem." Two-thirds said they thought that spending cuts should be part of the solution, but ideas to generate more revenue also garnered widespread support.

Residents overwhelmingly supported raising the income tax on the wealthiest Californians, while a slight majority favored a half-cent increase in the state sales tax to balance the books, according to the survey.

Still, there are stark differences in how tax increases are viewed along party lines in the heavily Democratic county.

Though 66% of Democrats expressed willingness to pay higher state taxes to maintain the current level of funding for K-12 public education, only 44% of Republicans felt the same way.

Party differences also showed up in the way county residents viewed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The survey found that 51% of those polled approved of the governor's overall performance, with 80% of Republicans and 45% of Democrats giving the governor a high approval rating.

The Legislature gets lower marks, garnering approval from 40% of those surveyed.

Residents also appeared to be less satisfied with the performance of their local governments, with 32% in the city of Los Angeles satisfied that municipal government was doing an excellent or good job and 25% saying that county government was doing a good or excellent job.

A county sales-tax increase to fund public safety drew support from 65% of those surveyed -- including 63% of likely voters -- while 76% said they would support a county ballot measure to increase taxes on alcoholic beverages and cigarettes to fund county health services.

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Funding education

Although 61% of Los Angeles County residents said they were willing to pay higher taxes to maintain funding levels for public education, there were significant differences between Democrats, Republicans and independents on the issue.

Q: "What if the state said it needed more money just to maintain current funding for K-12 public education? Would you be willing to pay higher taxes for this purpose?"

All adults Yes 61% No 35% Don't know 4%

Party registration: Yes No Don't know Democrats 66% 31 3 Republicans 44% 52 4 Independents 62% 33 5

How the survey was conducted: The survey consisted of telephone interviews with 2,002 adult residents of Los Angeles County between Feb. 27 and March 9, and had a sampling error of plus or minus 2% at a 95% confidence level. The survey was conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California and the School of Policy, Planning and Development at USC, with partial funding by the California Community Foundation.

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