SACRAMENTO -- Voicing an idea that has been quietly bandied about in Democratic circles for months, Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg on Wednesday threatened to roll back services in Republican districts if they continue to resist the call for taxes to close the state's gaping deficit.

"You get the government you pay for," the Sacramento Democrat told reporters after he addressed the Sacramento Press Club. "It's basic fairness. You don't want to pay for government, well, then you get less of it."

Steinberg wouldn't specify the kinds of cuts he's considering other than "convenient services to adults," though he would exempt services for vulnerable children. He did not make it clear how he'd be able to target individual districts, but past leaders such as former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown have punished certain lawmakers by holding back funding for specific programs.

His remarks came on the heels of a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California that shows most Californians are fearful that schools will suffer if the Legislature continues to cut its way out of the remaining $15.4 billion deficit.

Concerns over the state's ability to continue offering quality education run deep. Nearly two-thirds of likely voters worry that quality education will suffer if more budget cuts are made. A majority want to protect schools over other priorities.

Teacher layoffs top the list of concerns of voters, with 65 percent worried about the prospect of fewer teachers. Most fear fewer days of instruction (61 percent), eliminating arts and music programs (58 percent) and increasing class sizes (52 percent). Democrats and public school parents are more worried about these issues than Republicans and adults without children in public schools.

"Californians' support for maintaining K-12 spending remains strong. It is a significant factor for the state's leaders to take into account in any proposals that they put before voters this year," said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of PPIC. "Residents are worried about the toll that reduced spending is having on the quality of K-12 public education, and public school parents are noticing the impact of state budget cuts on their children's schools."

It's a poll that once again reveals contradictory impulses of the voting populace. A majority of likely voters want to have a special election on taxes and support Gov. Jerry Brown's budget plan that resolves the state deficit with equal amounts of cuts and taxes.

But they don't want see their taxes increased to ward off the cuts to schools, universities and police services. Instead, they want the wealthy to pay. Two-thirds say they oppose increasing their income taxes and 62 percent oppose sales tax hikes, while 62 percent want the top rate of the income tax to be raised on the wealthiest.

The views indicate the choppy waters that Brown and the Legislature must navigate as they seek to close the deficit. The Legislature narrowed the spending gap last month with $11.2 billion in savings, including $8 billion in cuts. But Republicans have balked at Brown's proposal to allow voters to extend the 2009 temporary increases on sales, income and vehicle taxes for another five years.

Steinberg said voters would rebel against lawmakers if they tried to balance the budget through cuts only -- which could include $4.5 billion to $5 billion in cuts to schools.

Even with the heavy politics of the budget, Brown's approval rating has remained steady, according to the PPIC poll. He has an approval rating of 46 percent -- a similar rating to a March survey -- while 32 percent disapprove of his work and 21 percent said they don't know.

The Legislature remains at a low point, however, with only 14 percent approving of the job it's doing.

The survey, which interviewed 2,504 adult residents, 1,209 likely voters and 763 public school parents, was conducted over landlines and cellphones from April 5-19. The margin of error is 3 percent for all adults and 3.5 percent for the 1,209 likely voters.

Reach Steven Harmon at 916-441-2101. Follow him at Twitter.com/ssharmon. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.