Split Personality of Californians Fuels Dysfunctional Government


split-personality Calbuzz has spared neither effort nor expense to bash the governor and legislative leaders for the shameful spectacle of the May 19th ballot measures.

But we’d be remiss if we didn’t also call out our fellow voters, who exhibit a maddening syndrome of self-canceling impulses about how to pay for their government.

A recent Field Poll on the subject, which passed with little media notice amid widespread reports about the life-support status of the five budget props, brings some quantitative rigor to the diagnosis of this heart-breaking disorder, which afflicts Californians of every political persuasion.

For starters, two-thirds of the voters – including 83% of Republicans, 65% of independents and 57% of Democrats – agree we should balance the state’s budget mostly through spending cuts. Fair enough, but where to cut?

Not anywhere that would affect most of those calling for cuts – or take a serious whack at spending by state government.

Majorities of voters oppose cuts in public schools, health care and higher education – three huge chunks of spending which collectively represent nearly three-fourths of the budget.

Oh yeah, they also oppose cutting law enforcement, child care, mental health, water storage, environmental regulation, public transportation or state roads and highways.

The only items majorities of voters favor cutting are prisons and state parks, which make up about 12% of the total budget.

On the revenue side, six in 10 voters say they are not willing to pay higher taxes, meaning income, general sales, vehicle license or property taxes should be off limits, according to most citizens.

They also don’t support higher business property taxes, 37%; increased gasoline taxes, 27%, or expanded sales taxes for entertainment, legal, medical or professional services, 25%.

But voters are willing to raise taxes on things they perceive as not necessarily affecting them personally: sale of pornography, 80%; income taxes for millionaires, 78%; tobacco taxes, 75%; alcohol taxes, 74%; legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana, 56%; oil severance taxes, 54%; and out-of-state Internet sales, 51%.

quentin-tarantino-gun-to-head1What do policymakers see when they look at such data? Voters, pointing a gun to their own heads, screaming “Stop, before I shoot!”

Having been in and around state government for decades, we get that there’s some of the famous waste, fraud and abuse that can be trimmed out of the state budget. Sure, there are some efficiencies to be implemented. But this stuff is nibbling at the margins.

As a practical matter, the Capitol will remain in near-permanent budget deadlock, as long as a) California remains one of only three states to require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to approve the state budget and b) legislative districts are drawn to protect incumbents and partisan interests.

There is some evidence that voters might consider relaxing the two-thirds vote rule.

For the first time, the Public Policy Institute of California reported in January that a majority of Californians – 53% – favored relaxing the two-thirds budget rule. However, two months later, after the February budget deal that produced the May 19 election props, support had dropped back to historic levels, with only 43% favoring the idea.

Look for the two-thirds issue to become an issue in next year’s governor’s race: two initiatives to reduce the 67% rule to 55% have been cleared for circulation by the Secretary of State, and new state Democratic Party chairman John Burton has said passage of such a measure will be a priority.

The 2010 candidates for governor need to know that as long as California remains in the august company of Rhode Island and Arkansas in requiring a supermajority to pass the budget, no governor will have the power to fashion a spending plan that makes sense.

P.S.: Netroots progressives, who also want to relax the two-thirds vote for passing new taxes, will find the political territory far more rugged: According to the Field Poll, seven in 10 voters — including 84% of Republicans, 72% of independents and 58% of Democrats – say they like the requirement for a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to enact new taxes.

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There are 19 comments for this post

  1. avatar Anonymous says:

    I’d like to see the 2/3 rules challenged on constitutional grounds — how can a simple majority pass rules that forevermore require 2/3 majorities, thereby depriving their fellow citizens of the principle of majority rule? The US Constitution says states must have a republican form of government — how is granting a small minority total power consistent with that? That’s oligarchy, not representative democracy.

  2. avatar Hap Hazard says:

    i think you’re placing way too much significance on the 2/3 vote as an impediment. Both the dems and the reeps use it to their advantage. Dems say we’re sorry we just can’t do anything because of that pesky vote requirement, just as readily as the reeps use it as their last stand.

  3. avatar Anonymous says:

    Yes, and that is why it is such an impediment: it gives both parties an excuse to not do their jobs, and allows them to confuse the public as to who is responsible for what. It is a dagger in the heart of democracy, and removing it is the single most important thing that needs to happen to give California a brighter future.

  4. avatar Anonymous says:

    A big part of the schizoid impulse is a fear that the state workers use their lobbying power to protect themselves. We may be 48th in school spending, but we’re pretty high in teacher pay. State worker retirement is unsustainable and since we don’t fully fund future obligations each year, it amounts to taxation without representation on our kids. When the economy booms state and local workers demand “market” adjustments. When the economy crashes they don’t receive “market” layoffs. We’re cynical when the first cuts in a crunch are public-facing DMV office hours.

  5. avatar Steve Maviglio says:

    Arnold had the chance to fix all this. He blew it. He spent five years muttering the “it’s a spending problem, not a revenue problem” mantra, opposed any restructuring of the revenue system, and still remains opposed to a change in the two-thirds requirement. Golden opportunity for a REAL legacy lost. Instead he’ll be the Governor who will be known for presiding over the dismantling of basic state services.

  6. avatar Anonymous says:

    FYI -CA is FIRST in teachers pay. We stand at 48th becauase as the largest state in per pupil spending per 1000 of personal income because A) we generally have higher per capita income than other states and b) as a large state we get economies of scale – one superindent of education for 30 million CA versus same position (and same salary) for 3 million Oregonians.

    The only benefit of relaxing the rule to 50% (the 55% is more insider baseball rightly roasted two posts below) is that the majority would have to “stand” for its budget and the minority party could go to voters pointing out the flaws.

  7. avatar Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous at 6:41 am

    They don’t receive “market layoffs”?? Tell that to the 30,000 teachers who got laid off. As for their salaries being #1, is that adjusted for cost of living? $35,000 a year goes a lot farther in Utah.

    The 2/3rds requirement has to go. Ballot initiatives have to be curtailed or eliminated, and gerrymandered legislative districts have to go.

    I’m a Democrat but the California party sickens me, just not quite as much as the local GOP. I think they would both be helped by having to run in more competitive districts number one and number two have to face the voters after voting on something hard instead of sending it to a proposition.

  8. avatar Roberts and Trounstine says:

    To Anonymous @9:30 —

    You are correct. As our own Dr. Hackenflack might note, “schizoid” is not properly used in the headline as a DSM IV diagnostic term. On the other hand, it’s a colloquialism that roughly means “schitzy.” (Itself a misapplication of schizophrenia). And “dissociative identity disorder” is lousy for a headline and would mean nothing to readers.

  9. avatar Anonymous says:

    Thanks for changing the title and the picture. At least now we can say the new picture is just Quentin Tarantino being himself.

    Now that I’ve calmed down enough to actually read today’s post, I’ll say that you’re absolutely right. California’s voters are fickle.

    If we’re still stretching to find a clinically-accurate mental health parallel, we might say voters are sado-masochistic. IMHO, we should limit their access to dangerous weapons like the ballot initiative process. But that’s another topic altogether.

  10. avatar Dave McCuan, Sonoma State, POLS Dept says:

    The perpetual problem, as Roberts and Trounstine point out, is that CA’s voters are bi-polar. They want good schools, good roads, clean air, virtually free universities, efficient yet cheap public services, AND to pay low taxes all at the same time. In addition, if thinking about all of this gives them a headache, they want to call that a “medical condition” and to light up a bowl in order to feel better. It is another example of the “Jekyll and Hyde” California voter at work. They want to be asked to dance, and then to tell their suitor, “No.” Hence, many trips to the ballot, with little movement in the Legislature, and most policy of substance will continue to fly through the “parallel legislature” of direct democracy. Alice in Wonderland didn’t have it this good.

  11. avatar Anonymous says:

    Hey, DOC “THIS JUST IN!” Californians are NOT bi-polar. Grab a DSM IV and Dr. H shall then beginning your enlightenment in a fortnight! CA residents have been remarkably consistent: THEY ALWAYS HAVE HAD a passion for good government, no lies without deception by government officials. It is the ‘none of the above successfully delivered by the elected caste’ whicvh has always failed. And BTW – Where’s John the State Party [newly elected chair] these days. Did he do a sabbatical to Hawaii after the love-fest in Sacramento, or what? At least Art Torres would compulsively send out near- weekly e-newsletters to the unwashed! [In 1978, a successful GOP gubernatorial candidate did that – in the wake of Proposition 13. Next time he came up for air in the Waikiki surf, Jerry Brown had been elected Governor “working the will of the people” that year]! REMEMBER?

  12. avatar MJGC says:

    Sure a majority say they favor cuts in state parks funding but ask them if they favor closures of state parks? No doubt the support plummets. And yet that is exactly what would occur with any substantial cut in state parks funding. More evidence of our bi-polar-voters: Fix it, but don’t let there be any consequences.

  13. avatar baycommuter says:

    What about ending the defined benefit pension program for state and local employees? Most companies and even the federal government (for new employees) have done this. The system is unusually generous in its calcuations and thousands of state workers get over $100,000 a year. Democrats don’t mention this because of union power, but it would allow for more government services in almost every community. Phil, if you’re qualified, don’t worry, your existing benefits would be grandfathered.

  14. avatar Anonymous says:

    Why do you “analysts” persist in presenting a false dichotomy regarding Ca government? It’s not services versus taxes, it’s disgust with the state’s mis-management. California gov’t has plenty of money to spend, it just refuses to do wisely. Perfect example? State Worker furloughs. Everyone in the private sector who’s taken a pay cut still works as many hours as before, But in state government, our privilege, lazy-ass “workers” get to take time off with their pay cut. Here’s an idea: more work @ less pay. Increase gov’t efficiency. Make do with less. Stop the waste. And then come to me with a tax increase, IF you still need one. Most voters in the state understand this. Why can’t you?

  15. avatar Anonymous says:

    ANon @ 4:08 p.m.

    It is government which is perpetuating the [correct] “false dichotomy” you cite. That’s why voters and activists of all manner or stripe are p****d as never before. THIS IS A VERY :VOLATILE TIME FOR IMBUMBENTS — further, THEY GOT IT,but can’t find a way out of a self-created box in the rabbit warren [Think: “Watership Down” for insights political].

  16. avatar baycommuter says:

    agreed, latest anon. I find it wrong that most of (us) Democrats, who work in the private sector with no job security and can’t stand lazy people in our office, won’t challenge the unions.

  17. avatar Anonymous says:

    Instead of tearing down public employees, we should be fighting to get good pensions and benefits in the private sector also. When we take benefits away from public employees, it only makes it harder to get good benefits in the private sector. That benefits only one group: people who have so much money that they will never need a pension. For the rest of us, taking away other people’s benefits only makes things worse for us also.

  18. avatar Anonymous says:

    The Field Poll stated that voters favor cutting prisons and state parks. I wish to inform voters that the General Fund tax money for State Parks makes up one-tenth of one percent of the entire budget. State Parks is a tiny fraction of that 12% cited. And, State Parks is a big revenue producer for private business and the State, with its 79-million visitors generating $6.5 BILLION in output and sales for private businesses in communities around State parks. Cutting State Parks cuts private business, thereby cutting tax revenue to the state. A survey shows that for every $1 taken by State Parks in tax money, $2.35 is returned to the State. Why cut a revenue producing department that is the single largest vacation destination in the State at 79-million visitors yearly?

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