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Jerry Brown tax hike suddenly on the ropes. Does he have time to save it?

With less than two weeks to go before Election Day, support for Jerry Brown's tax hike has plunged below 50 percent in two polls. If it fails, $6 billion in automatic cuts kick in.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / October 25, 2012

California Gov. Jerry Brown makes a point while speaking in support of Proposition 30 at an elementary school Tuesday, Oct. 23, in San Diego. Proposition 30 would boost the state sales tax by a quarter cent for four years and raise income taxes for seven years on those who make more than $250,000 annually.

Lenny Ignelzi/AP

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Los Angeles

Support for Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to raise billions in taxes – necessary to square California’s budget and avoid draconian budget cuts that would be triggered automatically – has suddenly and seriously slipped to below 50 percent, two major state polls say.

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The question now becomes whether Governor Brown and his supporters can rescue the tax measure, known as Proposition 30, with less than two weeks left before Election Day.

On Thursday Brown brushed off news of the new poll results and expressed confidence that he would push the measure through, but history and conventional wisdom hold that tax measures rarely gain support in the waning days of a campaign.

Experts note also that the governor’s ability to win back support is hampered by the fact that a majority of the 40 percent of Californians who vote absentee have already cast their ballots.

Prop. 30 would temporarily raise taxes on individuals earning more than $250,000 annually and impose a quarter-cent hike in the state sales tax. If it fails, $6 billion in automatic spending cuts would be triggered starting Jan. 1, mostly from K-12 schools, but also from health and human services, including care for the disabled and seniors.

According to the new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, support for Brown’s initiative has plunged nine percentage points in the past month to just 46 percent of registered voters.

A separate poll by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) put support among likely voters at 48 percent, below the 50 percent needed for passage. That’s a four-point drop from their own poll a month ago.

Analysts say that more than just the state’s finances are imperiled if the ballot measure fails.

“The future of his governorship, indeed his legacy, rest on the passage of Prop. 30,” says David McCuan, professor of political science at Sonoma State University. “If you need further evidence of this just look to how Arnold Schwarzenegger was emasculated with many trips to the ballot.”

Professor McCuan and others say the drop in support has come for two primary reasons. One is that Brown has failed to sufficiently convince voters to pass the measure, relying on the negative argument, that “if it doesn’t pass, education will suffer” – which many voters felt as a threat. The other reason is that a rival tax measure, Prop. 38, backed by deep pocket millionaires, began negative attack ads on Brown’s measure.

“Tax measures in California face two problems: The voters rarely approve tax increases, and intense moneyed opposition usually means voters are confused and thus will vote ‘no,’ ” says Robert Stern, former president of the Center for Governmental Studies.

Noting that only once in the last 10 years has a tax been passed – a millionaire's tax for mental health funding – he concludes, “it is not unusual that Brown's initiative probably will lose.”

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