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In its lowest public poll reading so far, Gov. Jerry Brown's tax plan has support from 52 percent of likely voters, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California survey.

PPIC found in two earlier polls that Brown's plan to hike taxes on wealthy earners and sales had 68 percent and 60 percent support from likely voters. A Field Poll last month found that Brown's plan had 58 percent backing from registered voters.

The new, lower result is likely due to two factors, said poll director Mark Baldassare: PPIC used official ballot language for the first time and Brown's plan has weathered vocal opposition in recent weeks from rival groups backing taxes.

The California Federation of Teachers is gathering signatures for a tax on millionaires to pay for education and county services, while attorney Molly Munger and the California State PTA have proposed an initiative that progressively raises income tax rates on all but the poorest Californians. They have defended their measures and been critical of Brown's plan. Voter opinion of those proposals was not surveyed by PPIC.

"In the best of circumstances, you don't have people saying don't do this," Baldassare said. "But in this situation, you even have people who favor taxes saying don't do this."

Besides describing higher taxes to pay for K-12 schools, the official title and summary for Brown's initiative describes the state's transfer of responsibilities from state to local governments. It also says the measure would "address the state's budgetary problem by paying for other spending commitments." Those two components were not included in PPIC's earlier poll questions because state Attorney General Kamala Harris had not yet issued official ballot language.

"It's longer, it's more complicated and deals with more subjects," Baldassare said of the ballot language. In particular, he said, "It's not simply about money for education anymore, it's about other things."

An early 52 percent reading "suggests it's going to be a challenge for the governor to pass an initiative," Baldassare observed.

Brown political adviser Steve Glazer said the latest poll result shouldn't be compared to the earlier measurements at 60 percent and above because the questions weren't the same. He said that the PPIC figure was "consistent with our own understanding of where we stand."

"Tax campaigns are never easy, but I'm confident that we're at a place that will provide a successful result," Glazer said.

The PPIC poll was taken Feb. 21 to 28 and has a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.


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