Polling Shows Some Support for Higher Taxes, Will Voters Get the Chance to Vote on It?
However, earlier this week, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) released their findings showing that a strong majority say that a special election on Governor Jerry Brown’s tax and fee proposal is a good idea, and a majority are generally satisfied with his budget plan.
“Californians are beginning to feel more hopeful—that the economy is improving, that the governor and legislature can get something done,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC CEO and survey director. “But that hope is fragile and could dissolve quickly. The challenge for Brown is to convince Californians that his complex budget plan is a real solution to the state’s fiscal troubles.”
What does this all mean? Not a lot if Governor Brown cannot find a way to peel off a few Republicans to support allowing the voters to decide about the tax issue.
While voters are generally supportive of the Governor’s proposal (58% are described as generally satisfied versus just 29% generally dissatisfied), the overwhelming majority (75%) are at least somewhat concerned about the spending reductions in the governor’s plan.
So the public appears strongly to support the proposal by Governor Brown to put a special election on the ballot to let the voters decide on a tax and fee package to prevent further budget cuts. Two-thirds of all adults agree with allowing an election to go forward, including 55% of registered Republicans. Those numbers hold even when all adults are limited to likely voters.
Compare that to 2005, “just 40 percent of likely voters said in September 2005 that the special election called by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was a good idea, and 50 percent felt that way in the weeks before a 2009 special election called by the governor and legislature.”
A slim majority also supports not only putting the plan on the ballot, but the plan itself – “53 percent of adults and 54 percent of likely voters—favor the general plan they would be voting on, which would extend tax and fee increases and divert some revenues from state to local governments.”
A majority of voters oppose further cuts to spending for education and social services (K–12 education (75%), higher education (63%), and health and human services (60%)) to help reduce the state budget deficit.
On the other hand, 70 percent support cutting prisons.
A huge majority are willing to increase taxes to spare K–12 education (71%), higher education (59%), and health and human services (57%) from budget cuts. Just 17 percent are willing to pay higher taxes to maintain current funding for prisons and corrections.
Despite widespread support for Governor Brown’s proposal, there is no honeymoon for the new governor.
Writes the PPIC, “So far, Californians approve of the ideas the new governor has advanced more than they approve of the new governor. Less than half of adults approve of the overall job he is doing so far (41% approve, 19% disapprove, 39% don’t know) or of his handling of the state budget and taxes (41% approve, 27% disapprove, 32% don’t know). His approval ratings among likely voters are higher but still don’t reach 50 percent: his overall job approval is 47 percent (20% disapprove, 33% don’t know) and 47 percent approve of his handling of the budget and taxes (24% disapprove, 29% don’t know).”
On two of the Governor’s other key proposals he has strong majorities.
First, on shifting tax dollars to local government, 71% of adults across party lines almost equally “favor the general concept of shifting tax dollars and fees to local governments to take on the responsibility of running certain programs.”
Meanwhile, a healthy majority of Californians also favor Governor Brown’s proposal to phase out funding for local redevelopment agencies and eliminate enterprise zones, redirecting tax revenue to local governments for schools and other services.
On the other hand, only 49% support his proposal to cut state worker pay by about 10 percent for those not currently covered under collective bargaining agreements.
What does this all mean? It is difficult to know. The voters appear at this point to support Democratic goals of preserving funding for education and social services.
The one point that is not covered, at least in the summary of this survey, is the question of salience of the issues. This is crucial because the anti-tax forces tend to turn out in large numbers in special elections, whereas the general public may be less willing.
On the other hand, teachers’ unions and public employee groups would be activated, as well, getting their voters out.
From the standpoint of principle, the idea of allowing the voters to decide seems to carry a lot of merit, as evidenced by the fact that a much higher percentage of voters are supportive of putting the question to the voters as are willing to vote for the tax increase themselves.
The numbers do show that the public, after several years of cuts, is not anxious to see more cuts and many are willing to pay increased taxes rather than incur another round of cuts.
None of this matters, however, unless the Governor figures out a way to get the tax measure on the ballot.
On the other hand, it appears that the Republicans might be willing to exchange putting the tax issue before the voters if Governor Brown deals with pension reform.
Senator Mimi Walters, who was a candidate for State Treasurer but was routed in the polls by Bill Lockyer, is preparing a package of pension reform plans that she is saying must be addressed.
“We want reforms in place before there’s any discussion about tax increases,” said Senator Walters. “I do know there’s not support at all to even put it on the ballot without significant pension reforms.”
The Governor has responded that he intends to unveil his own pension proposal in the next few weeks, but does not want it tied to any negotiations with the Republicans over taxes.
“I don’t want to put too much on the table and have the whole thing collapse,” Governor Brown said earlier this week. “But people are concerned about that and I said I’d have various proposals. I intend to follow through on that.”
The problem is that Senator Walters’ reform package includes a 401K plan, and that is dead on arrival. The Republicans have limited leverage in this system and know that their only card may be Governor Brown’s tax reform.
I think we will get a pension reform plan, a solid one along the lines that the Governor unveiled in his campaign last summer. If that is the case, the Republicans will not get a 401K style plan, as Democrats are not going to support a move away from defined benefits.
Are the Republicans willing to settle for some form of pension reform? And is that enough to put the tax measure on the ballot? We will have to find out.
I will go out on a limb and guess that Governor Brown will find a way to put it on the ballot and then it becomes a matter of who gets out to vote. Republicans have a numbers disadvantage, as evidenced by the PPIC poll, but their base is more likely to turn out than the Democratic base in a special election.
—David M. Greenwald reporting