SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Californians are more optimistic than they have been in years, which is translating into high job approval ratings for Gov. Jerry Brown and bipartisan support for his budget plan to pay down debt, according to a new statewide poll released Wednesday.
The Public Policy Institute of California found growing support for elected officials and the policy decisions they are making, but the statewide survey found racial disparities persist in how people view police treatment in their communities. In light of recent killings of unarmed black men by officers, 55 percent of Californians say blacks and other minorities do not receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system.
Noticing that the state's budget situation has improved dramatically, Californians are supportive of Brown's plan to pay down debt and build a cushion rather than restore social service programs. There's even majority support — 52 percent of likely voters — for extending income and sales tax increases under Proposition 30, which will begin to expire next year.
Although Brown sold Proposition 30 as a temporary tax to fund schools and public safety, there is talk in Sacramento of extending it with Democrats in favor, Republicans opposed and independents split.
PPIC president and CEO Mark Baldassare said it would make sense to put a tax proposal on the ballot in 2016, when more voters will likely turn out for the presidential race. However, he said, Brown's popularity means his opinion on any tax proposal will carry a lot of sway with voters.
"What he has to say about this is going to be critical," Baldassare said.
Overall, the positive mood driven by recent economic gains has given a boost to how Californians view their government.
A record 61 percent of adults approve of Brown's job performance, an increase from 41 percent four years ago when he returned for a second stint as governor. The Democratic governor has slightly less support from likely voters at 58 percent because Republicans are more likely to vote.
State lawmakers are also enjoying their highest job approval ratings since 2002. The poll found 49 percent of adults and 41 percent of likely voters approve the performances of their legislators.
When told about Brown's budget plan for paying down state debt and putting $1.2 billion into the state's rainy day fund, 79 percent of likely voters approved with majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents in favor. Strong majorities also liked his proposal for state employees to start contributing toward their retirement health benefits.
Californians are also supportive of a higher education compromise when it comes to finding ways to avoid tuition increases. The poll found about half say state funding should be increased while existing funds need to be used more wisely, 41 percent say existing funds should be used more wisely and 8 percent say only funding should be increased.
Brown and University of California President Janet Napolitano will form an unusual "committee of two" that will look at ways of resolving their standoff over state funding for higher education. The UC Board of Regents approved raising tuition by up to 5 percent in each of the next five years unless the state gives the university more money but Brown refused in his state spending plan and called for finding efficiencies.
Californians also view police relations similarly to national trends with blacks far more likely to say minorities do not receive equal treatment, Baldassare said.
Only 36 percent of blacks approve of police performance in their communities, compared with 74 percent for whites, 57 percent for Latinos and 56 percent for Asians.
Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in San Francisco and Oakland in December in response to grand jury decisions not to indict white officers who killed unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York.
The telephone poll of 1,705 California adults was conducted Jan. 11-20 and had a margin of sampling error of 3.6 percent. The error margin was 4.6 percent for the subgroup of 1,011 likely voters.