Schwarzenegger and Republican Legislators Losing With California Voters on Budget According to PPIC Poll8 min read

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Californians want a balanced approach of spending cuts and tax increases

76% of California likely voters consider the state budget situation in California to be a “big problem” and only 35% are satisfied with Governor Schwarzenegger’s budget plan. When it comes to making both the tough choices that need to be made on taxes and spending, 36% favor the approach of Democrats in the legislature, followed by 22% for the Governor, and only 19% for legislative Republicans. 47%, the largest segment wants the California budget gap deal with through a mix of spending cuts and tax increases.

These are just some of the findings in the survey of over 2000 Californians just released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), a non-partisan and nonprofit organization which has been conducting similar surveys since 1994. They show a dramatic drop for the Governor on the budget and a public that is quite concerned over the direction the state of California is taking. There is ambivalence, to be sure, in Californians’ attitudes towards higher taxes and more governmental services and lower taxes and less services, but many of the numbers here are quite startling. Feathering out the tax question, it appears the voters support the idea of increasing some taxes but not others.

Here are the details.

76% of California likely voters describe the state budget situation as being a “big problem”—and the results are high whether they are Democrats, Republicans, or Independents. Another 22% say it is “somewhat of a problem.” These two numbers combine to 98% with only 1% saying it not a problem and 1% who don’t know.

47% want the “state budget gap” dealt with by a mix of spending cuts and tax increases. Another 9% say they would like it done mostly through tax increases. 35% say they want the budget deficit eliminated mostly by spending cuts. Looking at this another way and combining the first two responses, there are 56% who favor tax increases somehow as part or most of the solution. And there are 83% who want cuts in the equation either mostly or to some degree. Democrats and Independents favor the mixed approach whereas 51% of Republicans favor “mostly spending cuts’ although a third of Republicans favor the mixed approach.

When asked who’s approach they prefer to make the “tough choices involved in the state budget, both in deciding how much Californians should pay in taxes and how to fund state programs, ” Democratic legislators come out on top with 36%, then the Governor at 22%, followed by Republican legislators at 19%. This is fairly consistent with poll numbers from January.

Only 35% of likely voters favor Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget and 57% disapprove of it. Disapproval is overwhelming by Democrats (66% to 22%) and is also the choice of Independents (52% to 41%), but it garners support from 51% of Republicans. Still, there is dissatisfaction, even amongst Republicans at a level of 39%. This represents a dramatic drop for the Governor’s budget: He had 68% satisfaction for his budget in January of last year and 62% for his budget a year ago. This is the lowest level the Governor has ever had on the budget, eclipsing the 38% level in January of 2005.

No matter what its called, voters don’t want to borrow against the lottery or lease it out. Likely voters soundly reject the Governor’s plan to borrow $15 billion from the lottery– 62% to 30%. By a 59% to 25% margin, they oppose leasing the lottery to a private company.

When asked which program they most want protected from cuts, 62% identify K-12 public education, 16% health and human services, 12% higher education and last and least 7% prsons and corrections. K-12 education is first with Democrats (60%) and Independents (59%) and even the more so by Republicans (63%).

New Assembly Speaker Karen Bass put it all in a nutshell best in her comments on the PPIC poll, saying: “It’s not a surprise that voters, like legislators, are divided over ways to balance the budget and skeptical about the governor’s risky lottery plan. We have tough choices to make in difficult economic times. I am pleased that the poll shows a balanced solution to closing the budget gap — while protecting education and health care — is the path that will garner the most support from Californians.”

Taxes

When asked if tax increases should be included in the governor’s budget plan, there are more Californians favoring tax increases—50% to 46%. Note this is slightly different from the 56% who in answer to a previous question wanted taxes to at least be in the mix. There is the predictable split with Democratic voters favoring increased taxes by about two to one and Republicans disfavoring them by about the same margin, while independents favor tax increases by the same 4 point margin as likely voters as a whole.

When asked if they would prefer more taxes and more state services or less taxes and less services, the voters are split 45% for more and 47% for less—within the margin of error for the poll.

When asked in the context of the Governor’s plan to borrow from the lottery, 57% say the favor temporarily increasing the state sales tax by one cent if the lottery plan is rejected.

By a similar large margin—62% to 34%, likely voters favor raising state taxes paid by corporations and by a similar amount—64% to 33% they favor raising the top rate of the state income tax paid by the wealthiest Californians. These both get overwhelming support from Democrats and Independents, but this is the kicker—Republicans are divided on these corporation and income tax hikes, opposing both by narrow one to three point margins. Even with the state’s Republican voters, favor raising the state corporation tax and 46% favor raising the income tax on the top bracket.

Now when it comes to raising the state portion of the sales tax as a general proposition and not temporarily, this is rejected 57% to 39%–and that is the position that Democrats, Republicans, and Independents take, although by varying margins.

Likely voters do not want to see the vehicle license fee, reduced when Schwarzenegger took office, increased. This is by a 56% to 42% with regular voters.

By a lopsided 63% to 35%, likely voters think it’s a bad idea to extend the state sales tax to services not currently taxed, “such as legal and accounting services, auto repairs, and haircuts.”

There is a special section in the PPIC survey on Prop 13 which limited property taxes. This is the 30th anniversary of its passage. 67% of likely voters feel it is mostly a good thing, although there is a split as to whether this has had a good or bad effect on local government services, and by a large 61% to 33% margin voters oppose reducing the two-thirds vote required by Prop 13 to 55% for allowing local special taxes.

Changes in the State Budget Process Favored

As a general proposition, an overwhelming 94% of likely voters want changes made in the state budget process and the way that we raise revenues and spend money. 705 say they want major changes and 24% want minor changes.

While Democrats by a 48% to 43% margin and Independents by a 48% to 47% margin (a split) favor reducing the two thirds requirement to pass a state budget to a 55% majority, Republicans oppose this 59% to 32% and overall, amongst likely voters, it loses 53% to 39%.

But the voters do favor 68% to 26% “strictly limiting the amount of money that state spending could increase each year.”

Conclusion

There appears to be room for a mix of cuts and tax increases if the right taxes are identified. A temporary sales tax hike appears to have public support along with raising the corporate income tax and the highest bracket of the state income tax.

Voters want education protected from cuts and there is support in health and human services. Prisons and corrections are last and least with the voters’ priorities—but need sentencing reform and other changes made.

Legislators and the Governor are between a rock and a hard spot—especially with the two-thirds vote requirement that voters appear to support. Real leadership is needed as a balanced approach is what the voters are calling for.

Different responses can be elicited from those polled with variations in the wording of questions posed and one can wonder how voters and Californians will feel when real cuts are made in the budget and their effects seen in the neighborhoods we all live in. This is a scientific study of 2003 Californians, a large sample, and there is a margin of error of 2.5%.

As we approach the 40th anniversary of the death of Robert Kennedy, we need leadership from our elected officials. We need not to ask “why” things are the way they are, but “why not.” That’s going to take our legislative leaders and the Governor to feather out what is possible from both this valid poll and the willingness of Californians to follow them if they can agree and lead.

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