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Most Californians are favorably disposed toward Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to close the state budget deficit with a mixture of spending cuts and taxes, a new Public Policy Institute of California poll has found.

And while a majority said they would support Brown's tax extension plan on the ballot, majorities opposed actual increases to sales, income and vehicle taxes.

That somewhat contradictory finding underscores the political complications of Brown's budget plan, which he wants the Legislature to approve by early March so that the taxes can be placed before voters at a special election in June.

Mark Baldassare, PPIC's president and survey director, said the poll, which covered dozens of specific issues and questions, generally found that Californians, despite the state's stubborn recession and budgetary problems, are more optimistic than PPIC found in a similar poll last fall.

"Californians are beginning to feel more hopeful -- that the economy is improving, that the governor and Legislature can get something done," Baldassare said in a statement. "But that hope is fragile and could dissolve quickly. The challenge for Brown is to convince Californians that his complex budget plan is a real solution to the state's fiscal troubles."

That notwithstanding, Democrat Brown -- a former governor who won a landslide election last fall against billionaire Republican Meg Whitman -- gets only so-so ratings from Californians in the PPIC survey. Just 41 percent of those polled approve of his performance to date, while 19 percent disapprove and 32 percent haven't formed an opinion yet.

As usual, the Legislature's approval rating is even lower, 26 percent, but that's 10 points higher than it was last October. And nearly 60 percent of respondents said they expect Brown and legislators to work together well during the next year.

The PPIC poll found the same somewhat contradictory attitudes on spending and taxes that it and other polls have found in the past. While very strong majorities oppose spending cuts in K-12 and higher education and health and welfare services and say they're willing to pay higher taxes to keep them intact, equally strong majorities oppose raising taxes on income, sales and vehicles. Instead, they favor raising taxes on business -- which Brown is not proposing.

When asked specifically about Brown's plan to extend 2009 tax increases on sales, income and vehicles, however, 54 percent said they supported the plan.

That leads to this conclusion by the PPIC pollsters: "Most Californians' views about the budget are not based on an understanding of where the money comes from and where it goes." That conclusion was based on a series of detailed questions about the budget.

The full survey can be found here.


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