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What People Really Think Of Gavin Newsom's Plans

California Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, then San Francisco mayor, talks about universal health care coverage at a meeting of Town Hall Los Angeles on July 9, 2009 in Los Angeles. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
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Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom may have just been handed his priority list as he prepares to take office.

A new survey released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California shows residents give universal health care and tuition-free community college the highest priority among the programs they want funded by the state.

Before winning the race for governor this year, Newsom campaigned on several high-ticket items, including health coverage for all, two years of free college tuition and universal pre-K. He also supported the high-speed rail project and Delta water project, although he has said they should be scaled back.

Now 60 percent of Californians surveyed say he should give very high or high priority to universal health care, while 53 percent say the same for free community college tuition.

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They gave less but still significant backing to universal preschool (48 percent) while far fewer (25 percent) view high-speed rail as a funding priority for the new governor.

However much universal health care is supported by Californians, it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars to implement. Analyses of one state Senate proposal have placed the cost at between $331 billion to $400 billion, contributing to the proposal's shelving in the Assembly. The proposal is now set to be studied by a commission.

Debate has begun on how the state might spend a $15 billion surplus that arose from a robust economy and cautious budgeting by outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown. When the state Legislature reconvenes next month, Democrats are expected to formally propose using portions of that money for social services and educational programs.

Despite lawmakers' exuberance, Newsom has signaled a reluctance to open up the purse for free spending, following Brown's fiscal prudence. But the PPIC survey suggests that's not necessarily the thinking of Californians or likely voters.

When those surveyed were asked if they want Newsom to generally follow the path carved by Brown, only 35 percent of all those surveyed and 39 percent of likely voters agreed.

"As Gavin Newsom makes plans for his new administration, nearly half of Californians say they want him to take a different policy direction from Governor Brown," said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO, in a news release.

That's not to say Californians are soured on the outgoing governor. As Brown gets ready to leave office, his approval rating stands at a decent 51 percent among all adults and 52 percent among likely voters.

Californians ranked jobs and the economy as the most important issue facing the state, followed by the environment, housing costs, immigration and wildfires. There were regional differences: Los Angeles, Inland Empire and Orange County/San Diego residents most frequently chose jobs/economy as the top issue. Central Valley residents named wildfires -- understandably, given the devastating Camp Fire -- while those in the Bay Area ranked the environment and housing costs as the most important issues facing California.

The PPIC report is based on a phone survey of 1,704 Californians conducted from Nov. 11 to 20, with a margin of error of 3.3 percent.

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