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Archive for the ‘California Deficit’ Category



Tulchin: Voters Back Legal, Regulated Online Poker

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

By Ben Tulchin
Special to Calbuzz

In his State of the State address, Gov. Jerry Brown asked for alternative solutions to California’s budget crisis and one solution is already in the works – Senate Bill 40 by State Sen. Lou Correa, to legalize and regulate online poker.

This bill would generate millions of dollars in revenue and create thousands of jobs in California, which will help balance the state’s budget and prevent deeper cuts to essential services.  So how do California voters feel about this proposal?

They strongly support it, according to a recent poll of 600 likely California voters by Tulchin Research.  The good news for the governor and lawmakers in Sacramento is that the people have strong and clear opinions on the matter:

— 66% of Californians, including strong majorities of Democrats (71%), Decline-to-State voters (68%) and Republicans (58%), support regulating and taxing the profits of online poker.

— By a margin of 65-5%, voters want California-based operators (as opposed to out-of-state operators) in charge of the gaming operations.  This number climbs to 76-3% when California operators are compared to off-shore companies.

— 76% of Californians believe California’s trusted gaming partners – those already licensed in the state – should be the ones eligible to operate online poker as opposed to 13% who believe the process should be open to any company.

— Perhaps most significantly, 84% of voters want California to regulate online poker as opposed to nationalized online gaming.

Correa’s SB 40 is predicated upon three key principles:

1. Create a long-term revenue stream for California.
2. Ensure that the jobs created from online poker revenues become California jobs.
3. There must be appropriate regulations to ensure that kids can’t play and those who are eligible and do play, do so without fear of fraud or identity theft.

With such strong public support and the governor and the Legislature eager for new sources of revenue, you’d think it would be a no-brainer for our elected officials in Sacramento to support SB 40 to regulate online poker.

Alas, things in Sacramento are never that simple as there are currently two online gambling bills: the aforementioned SB 40 by Sen. Correa and SB 45 authored by Sen. Rod Wright.

If public opinion is important – and if you heard any part of the governor’s State of the State you’ll know it is (and, as a pollster, I sure hope it is) — then the Legislature and governor should get behind SB 40.  Voters support Correa’s vision for online poker and see it as a way to keep California jobs and revenues in the state.

How many jobs, how much revenue are we talking about?  According to former California Finance Director Tim Gage, online poker could generate $1 billion over the next decade and create 1,100 new jobs in a variety of industry sectors.

News reports indicate Gov. Brown is open to Internet gambling. “I don’t think it can be stopped,” Brown said last year. “If it can’t be, then there ought to be some way that the state can derive some tax revenue from that.”

The Correa bill would ensure that the benefits of regulated online poker remain in California helping to create jobs and balance the state budget.  Even better, voters like its provisions.

Ben Tulchin is founder and president of Tulchin Research, a polling and strategic consulting firm in San Francisco.

Know Nothings and the Death of Political Compromise

Monday, February 28th, 2011

President Ronald Reagan often compared leaders of the Soviet Union to the movie producers against whom he once bargained as president of the Screen Actors Guild. That early experience, Reagan told serial biographer Lou Cannon, was where he “learned to negotiate.”

“The purpose of a negotiation,” Reagan added, “is to get an agreement.”

What a quaint notion.

The conversation, related by Cannon during a forum sponsored by UC Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project last week, illuminates a fundamental difference in the Manichaeistic politics of millennial conservative leaders, who endlessly exalted the former president during recent celebrations of his centennial, and the real-life record of Reagan himself.

From his days as California’s governor, when he backed what was then the largest tax increase in state history as part of a bipartisan budget agreement, to the world-changing agreements on nuclear arms reduction he forged with Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan managed to maintain his commitment to his  conservative principles while finding ways to cut acceptable deals with Democrats in the Legislature and the Congress.

His approach contrasts with the current crop of ideologues, from Washington to Wisconsin and Sacramento, who sneer at the concept of compromise and dismiss the idea of negotiation, the twin foundations of governance that have long made representative democracy work.

“While Reagan tried to stuff everything he heard or read into the view of the world he had brought with him to Washington, he appreciated the value of compromise and negotiation,” Cannon wrote in “President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime,” his seminal biography.

“And on nearly all issues, Reagan was simultaneously an ideologue and a pragmatist. He complained to aides that true believers on the Republican right…preferred to ‘go off the cliff with all flags flying,’ rather than take half a loaf and come back for more, as Reagan believed liberals had been doing since the days of the New Deal.”

The Wisconsin con: Compare this attitude to that of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who’s become an instant hero to the mossback crowd with his political jihad against the right of public employees to engage in collective bargaining. In a taped conversation with a person he believed to be his right-wing patron David Koch (who was actually an alternative newspaper editor who punked the governor and his staff), Walker offered a candid look at his crude and autocratic theory idea of governing.

At one point, for example, he expressed contempt for the moderate Democratic leader of the Wisconsin senate, who has reached out to Walker in an attempt to settle the partisan deadlock over unions, saying the senator is “pretty reasonable, but he’s not one of us…He’s just trying to get something done. . . .He’s just a pragmatist.” Perish the thought.

“I don’t budge,” Walker then told the liberal journalist posing as Koch; he added, in what he believed was a private conversation, that while he might publicly pretend to be open to compromise discussions with Democrats, he would do so only as a way to con them: “I’m not negotiating,” he said.

A Capitol caucus of sheep: These rabid sentiments echo in Sacramento, where 30 Republican legislators last week announced a so-called “Taxpayers Caucus.” At a time when even Republican-tilted business organizations in the state back Jerry Brown’s deficit plan to allow voters to decide whether to extend $12 billion in temporary higher taxes and fees, membership in this Know Nothing caucus requires a blood oath to obstruct all bids to put the measure on the ballot.

It is instructive that the leader of this cadre is right-wing senator Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark.

Running in one of the few competitive districts in the state, Strickland in 2008 defeated Hannah Beth Jackson, an extremely liberal former Assembly member, by exactly 857 votes out of more 415,000 cast; rather than moderating his personal ideology to reflect the broad range of views held by his constituents, however, Landslide Tony chooses to grovel at the feet of Grover Norquist, the Washington-based anti-government extremist who threatens with retribution any Republican who votes to put Brown’s tax plan before voters.

While Strickland and his reckless brethren try to gussy up their stance as a matter of conservative principle, it rests instead on a set of intellectually dishonest and purely partisan canards and deceits.

Decrying Brown’s budget plan, GOP legislators refuse to put forth one of their own, placing partisan gamesmanship ahead of governance in the full knowledge that attaching numbers and detail to their worn-out rhetoric would prove the absurdity of their call for an all-cuts budget.

Rejecting reality, the poseurs pretend that the $85 billion budget is filled with vast amounts of wasteful discretionary spending, knowing that the state’s money overwhelmingly goes to K-12 schools, higher education and health programs, expenditures that enjoy widespread public support and which they lack the courage to openly and specifically oppose.

Putting ideology over rational debate, they fear California’s voters, mindful that an election testing the popularity of their no-taxes-ever policies may  reveal the emptiness of their politics. Chronicler John Diaz offers a trenchant summary of their puerility:

The governor, who relishes intellectual interchange, confronted Republicans last week in a highly unusual appearance before a budget conference committee. As is often the case with Brown, he mixed humor and in-your-face persuasion in searching for common ground with his adversaries.

“Pledges are interesting, they make good theater,” Brown told legislators. “But the fact is we have to have a plan, we need a solution, and for those who say they don’t want to vote, then why are you here?”

Good question: Why are they here, collecting their nearly six-figure salaries plus per diem, if they consider the state’s predicament the other party’s problem and none of their concern?

The great exception, again: In a recent national poll, the Pew Research Center reported results that at first glance seem to give an edge to kneejerk hardliners. By 49-42%, the findings showed, Americans favor “political leaders who stick to their position without compromise” over those “who make compromises with someone they disagree with.”

But in this matter, as in many others, California goes its own way, as gauged by a Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll taken during last fall’s campaign for governor. As we reported then, the survey:

…offers a glimmer of hope for California, finding that voters by a 2-1 margin say they’d prefer a governor “who can work effectively with others across party lines” to one who “is single-minded and will fight for what he or she thinks is correct.”

Democrats, moderates and liberals are most in favor of a governor who works with the opposition, but even Republicans and conservatives would rather have a governor who can work effectively across party lines.

The problem in Sacramento, however, has not been finding a governor who will work across party lines; the problem is finding enough legislators who will work with the governor.

How Brown is like Reagan: At a time when Brown is offering to compromise with Republicans on big issues they purport to care about, from pension reform to business regulation and a state spending cap, it defies common sense for the GOP to turn away from Reagan-style negotiated agreements. Cannon again:

Reagan did not fit the neat ideological stereotype that was presented in alternative forms by movement conservatives and liberal activists…

“He liked to see the people around him work towards an acceptable compromise, said White House cabinet secretary Craig Fuller. “Both words are important. Acceptable in a sense that it met his criteria, narrow as they might be. Compromise in that nobody got exactly what they wanted, but nobody lost.”

Like Reagan, Brown is at heart a traditionalist, embracing the old-school belief that politics is the art of the possible, fueled by negotiations in the service of finding agreement. That is why Brown keeps expecting Republicans to want to negotiate for things they want in exchange for things he wants. But the vast majority of the GOP minority doesn’t want to negotiate, because they don’t want an agreement.

Brown’s focused and patient efforts to craft a budget deal belie the  decades-old rap on him as too heedless and flaky for the painstakingly hard work of governing. He can only hope, however, that amid all the posing, grandstanding and strutting in the Republican caucus, there are at least a couple of grown-ups with the backbone to stand up and help him do the job.

Recommended reading:

Timesman Frank Rich offers a national perspective on the rejection of compromise and negotiation.

Dana Milbank of the Washpost looks more deeply at the Khaddafi-like views of Scott Walker. 

Dan Morain has an excellent take on the goofball Taxpayers Caucus.

Steve Harmon exposes the urban legend of Republicans being politically destroyed for backing tax increases.

Press Clips: Corgis, Mermaids & Buffalo Beasts

Friday, February 25th, 2011

This just in: At this hour, the Calbuzz Little Pulitzer Jury is meeting in closed-door, emergency executive  session, intensely discussing how to sort out the impact on this year’s journalism awards of Carla Marinucci’s game-changer, global exclusive interview with Jerry Brown’s dog.

As the world now knows, Costco Carla not only obtained the first sit-lie-rollover face-to-face with Sutter, the stylish and charming Welsh Corgi recently named California’s First Dog, but also somehow obtained permission to walk the dog around the Capitol.

The key  issue in the hush-hush meeting of the LP prize panel is this: While Marinucci’s incredible, multi-platform storytelling feat makes her the clear front-runner for this year’s Blair Witch Award for cinema verite enterprise journalism (25K daily circulation category), should she be DQ-ed for not reporting a crucial bit of historic context?

To her credit, with the glaring exception of the phrase “era of bi-pawtisanship,” the latter-day Lois Lane produced her canine chronicle with a minimum of bad dog puns (alas, the same cannot be said of Debra J. Saunders, who provided the print-only version of the big event).

Nevertheless, senior Calbuzzers on the jury expressed concerns about her assertion that the comatose display of full underside nudity, provided by the passive pooch while under questioning, marked “the first time…a subject has fallen asleep DURING an interview.”

Maybe so, several judges acknowledged, then quickly countered that the veteran news hen failed to mention a famous and relevant journalism case study of how a California REPORTER once fell asleep during an interview.

Sources recalled that, in the summer of 1990, when Your Calbuzzards were bitter rivals and fierce competitors, both were granted interviews on the same day with Pete Wilson, then the Republican nominee for governor, in the lobby of the San Jose Fairmont Hotel.

After the pair nearly came to blows over who would go first, a coin flip decided the matter; moments later, an astonishing scene unfolded, as the go-first ink slinger (we name no names) nodded, drowsed and then fell completely asleep during Wilson’s protracted answer to a question about land use planning.

“The combination of Pete’s extraordinarily tedious monotone and his amazing ability to never pause for breath has an overwhelming somnolent neurological effect,” the nonplussed newshound said in his defense. “It’s truly hypnotic.”

Will Marinucci’s omission of this media milestone doom her chances with the contest judges? We’re standing by to bring you the news of their decision in the case as soon as we get it. Back to you, Brian.

The not-so-little mermaid: Mega-kudos to Timm Herdt for a fine yarn highlighting the hypocrisy of local officials who won’t stop caterwauling about Brown’s move to shut down redevelopment agencies, shouting to the heavens that it’s an outrageous violation of Proposition 22.

That measure, for those who were still drunk from celebrating the Giants championship and missed election day, was aimed at blocking Sacramento from grabbing money from cities and counties to paper over the state deficit. Local officials now fighting Brown on the redevelopment issue insistently invoke Prop. 22, with the same level of fervor (and logic) Tea Partiers use when they triumphantly note that the Constitution doesn’t specifically give  Congress the right to pass laws about cell phones.

As the wily Herdt notes, however, Brown is simply using the same argument that Prop. 22 boosters themselves used to sell voters on the initiative:

Last fall, the League of California Cities, which spent $2.5 million to promote a ballot initiative, argued forcefully that property taxes should be used only to pay for essential public services…

In the 463 words of the cities’ ballot argument in favor of Proposition 22, “911 service” is mentioned five times, “fire protection” four times, “police service” four times and “senior services” twice. “Redevelopment” — which pays for none of those things — was mentioned not at all…

To argue that voters gave a mandate to protecting redevelopment is dishonest and silly.

Putting redevelopment into their initiative was an overreach on the cities’ part, and one that now complicates any possible compromise that would allow redevelopment agencies to continue while also turning over a greater portion of their tax revenue to be spent on basic government services.

As we posited this week, with unusually measured restraint (“Strident, indeed. Hysterical, overwrought and hyperbolic, too. Seldom have we witnessed such widespread, collective urban self-centeredness coupled with apparent disregard for the social fabric”), redevelopment types are simply on the wrong side of history on this one.

As Tom Meyer demonstrates today, making manifest a splendid column by our friend George Skelton, the self-righteousness of the statewide urban developer-political hack nexus is too much to bear when you start to look at what some of these latter-day Phidias types are actually building.

Dive Bar features what is billed as the largest nightclub aquarium in the world. That’s impressive, sort of. But is a mermaid bar — any bar — really what tax money should be spent on when governments are struggling to keep their heads above water?

Maybe laid-off teachers can land jobs as mermaids.

“Not everything that dives in the water is a mermaid,” goes a Russian proverb. True dat; sometimes it’s just taxpayers taking a bath.

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Dumbo and the Beast: Corgis notwithstanding, for pure, unadulterated buzz this week, it’s impossible to top the effort of Ian Murphy, editor of the Buffalo, N.Y.-based site The Beast. Murphy’s cojones enormes, world-class quick-wittedness and beyond-Beckett sense of the absurd yielded him the biggest phony story scoop since Orson Welles led the aliens in invading New Jersey.

His pantsing and punking of the repulsive Wisconsin governor Scott Walker,  who along with his senior staff totally fell for Murphy’s low-rent imitation of oligarch David Koch, was not only an all-time, real-time prank, but also a white-bright laser beam that instantly illuminated the high stakes political dynamic playing out in the Badger State.

That said, one thing it wasn’t was journalism, at least as practiced in the U.S. for the last hundred years or so. Although the Society of Professional Journalists aimed a scalding screed at Murphy, citing chapter and verse of how he’d violated every ethical tenet in the book, what their bashing demonstrated more than anything is the vast distance between the venerable ethics, standards and values of the MSM and the warp-drive universe of the internets. Not to mention the utter futility of codifying any standards whatsoever for the drive-by, Mad Max online frontier that extend beyond self-policing.

Let’s review: the SPJ calls Murphy’s hijinks “underhanded,” “inflammatory,” and “inexcusable” – this aimed at a guy who advertises The Beast as “the world’s only website,” features on the home page a sad image of a starving kid urging readers to “donate now” to help the editors buy drugs, and features in his list of sponsors a pharmaceutical cure for those who suffer from “Oldness.” Talk about ships passing in the night.

So journalism, it’s not. High-end new media theater? Way.

The Case for Why Redevelopment Must Go

Monday, February 21st, 2011

To hear mayors, council members and bureaucrats from throughout California screech and squeal about Gov. Jerry Brown’s call to shut down redevelopment agencies in favor of schools, the elderly and disabled, you’d think Krusty had proposed bulldozing Main Street.

As John Shirey, executive director of the California Redevelopment Association, put it the other day:  “I must be clear: we are stridently (sic) opposed to the governor’s proposal to abolish redevelopment and our singular goal is to defeat this proposal that will destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in economic activity.”

Strident, indeed. Hysterical, overwrought and hyperbolic, too. Seldom have we witnessed such widespread, collective urban self-centeredness coupled with apparent disregard for the social fabric.

There’s no way to know for sure, but it appears redevelopment agencies have already done what they can to hoard their loot by slapping together and hastily approving projects that would consume the same $1.7 billion in property taxes that Brown’s budget would use to keep from having to make further cutbacks to schools and social services as the state struggles with a $27 billion deficit.

San Diego officials are cooking up a plan to sequester $4 billion for a Charger’s football stadium and Los Angeles is trying to lock up $1 billion and other panicky RDAs are scheming to do the same.

Their bet is that Brown won’t sue them to recover those funds (even if the agencies are on shaky legal ground) because he won’t want all of those mayors and city officials opposing a June ballot measure to approve his budget by extending $12 billion in taxes and fees adopted two years ago.

How that will play out politically remains to be seen. But we don’t have to wait to understand the debate.

Needs in conflict: As long-ago urban affairs reporters, Calbuzz saw the powers of redevelopment used positively, to help revitalize urban areas in desperate need of infusions of investment. So we get that there are good arguments for the continuation of redevelopment, which are being blasted out to media and policy makers by the coalition to “Stop the State’s Redevelopment Proposal” (although we do wonder how much redevelopment money they’re spending on lobbying).

But California is facing a budget crisis of historic proportions that at least two and possibly three previous governors and their concurrent legislatures refused to own. And Brown has concluded that the interests of schools, widows and the disabled should have first call on funds that – according to the best, most objective studies – do little to expand California’s collective economic health when they are funneled into redevelopment agencies.

He’s right.

Redevelopment law allows cities (and counties, but they use it less) to declare a geographic area “blighted” and in need to revitalization. The property taxes in that redevelopment area are frozen and any new property taxes generated above that base may be used to purchase land, build streets and sewers and subsidize development in the project area.

The tax increment above the frozen base can be guaranteed as a source of funds to pay interest on bonds sold on the open market. This is called tax increment financing and it is a hugely powerful tool for urban investment because of its ability to leverage vastly more money at one time than is generated by the flow of property taxes annually.

There are some 400 active redevelopment agencies throughout California diverting more than $5 billion a year away from schools, counties and special districts and into the coffers of those agencies. The economic theory that argues for the process echoes Reaganesque trickle-down: by generating construction jobs, sales taxes and other activity in the redevelopment area, the rising tide is said to lift all boats and the region around the project area is expected to benefit. Like giving tax breaks to the wealthy is supposed to help the middle class.

Spinners for the RDAs argue that redevelopment activities support 304,000 jobs annually, including 170,600 construction jobs; contribute over $40 billion annually to California’s economy in the generation of goods and services, and generate more than $2 billion in state and local taxes in a typical year.

Moreover, since the law requires 20% of the tax increment to be dedicated for low- and moderate-income housing, the RDAs argue that eliminating redevelopment will significantly undermine efforts to provide homes for those who otherwise cannot afford it.

A close look at the numbers: But the most thorough and academically sound study of redevelopment we’re aware of, by Michael Dardia of the Public Policy Institute of California, found in 1998:

After correcting for local real estate trends, the author finds that redevelopment projects do not increase property values by enough to account for the tax increment revenues they receive. Overall, the agencies stimulated enough growth to cover just above half of those tax revenues. The rest resulted from local trends and would have gone to other jurisdictions in the absence of redevelopment.

A study by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office recently concluded as much and more.

While redevelopment leads to economic development within project areas, there is no reliable evidence that it attracts businesses to the state or increases overall regional economic development. Instead, the limited academic literature on this topic finds that—viewed from the perspective of an entire city or region—the effect of this program on property values is minimal. That is, redevelopment may cause some geographic shifts in economic development, but does not increase the overall amount of economic activity in a region. [emphasis added]

The independent research we reviewed found little evidence that redevelopment increases jobs. That is—similar to the analyses of property values—the research typically finds that any employment gains in the project areas are offset by losses in other parts of the region. We note that one study, commissioned by the California Redevelopment Association, vastly overstates the employment effects of redevelopment areas.

Redevelopment agencies receive over $5 billion of tax increment revenues annually. Lacking any reliable evidence that the agencies’ activities increase statewide tax revenues, we assume that a substantial portion of these revenues would have been generated anyway elsewhere in the region or state.

For example, a redevelopment agency might attract to a project area businesses that previously were located in other California cities, or that were planning to expand elsewhere in the region. In either of these cases, property taxes paid in the project area would increase, but there would be no change in statewide property tax revenues.

To the extent that a redevelopment agency receives property tax revenues without generating an overall increase in taxes paid in the state, the agency reduces revenues that otherwise would be available for local agencies to spend on non-redevelopment programs, including law enforcement, fire protection, road maintenance, libraries, and parks. [emphasis added]

The bottom line: In other words, despite the good arguments that RDAs make about the enormously positive local impacts of redevelopment – San Jose’s downtown and its northern industrial area are excellent examples – the evidence suggests that there’s a huge cost to the state (which has to back-fill funds that otherwise would have gone to schools) and little benefit or a substantial cost to counties and special districts.

We’re not even getting to other issues, like the fact that the only “blight” a lot of redevelopment areas had before they were made projects was pear blight, and the fact that there’s virtually no oversight of how redevelopment funds are spent (and millions is spent outside the law’s intent  to subsidize flagging city budgets and improve stable neighborhoods). That’s just piling on.

Gov. Brown’s budget would ensure that RDAs will receive enough money to cover the debt service on bonds they have already issued  (although the structure of the agencies that will make those payments still must be worked out).

But in an era when California is faced with draconian cutbacks to higher education, schools, parks and public safety, the diversion of property taxes to redevelopment agencies is a luxury the state can no longer afford.

Brown Works Inside Sac; No Budget Bully Pulpit Yet

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

You might think that Gov. Jerry Brown’s appearance tomorrow evening at a dinner hosted by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce will mark the launch of Krusty’s “outside” campaign for his proposal to put $12 billion in tax and fee extensions on the June ballot. But you’d be wrong.

Although his State of the State address was aimed as much at building broad support for his proposal as it was designed to speak directly to legislators, Team Jerry’s continued emphasis for at least the next few weeks will be on the “inside” game in Sacramento.

“He’s disciplined and focused on things that matter the most,” said his political adviser Steve Glazer. That’s the strategy for now. As another Brown ally put it, “The outside game could push the Republicans into a corner right now.”

So on Tuesday Brown met with Senate and Assembly Democrats. And he’s scheduled to meet with Senate and Assembly Republicans on Wednesday, all the while working on individual and small groups of legislators in hopes of convincing them that it’s in their interest to place his tax and fee measure on the ballot. To do that, he needs agreement from all the Democrats plus two Republicans in the Assembly and three in the Senate.

Thus far, there’s no sign any Republicans want to give him their votes, although some GOP strategists and others have suggested that in exchange for pension reform and perhaps a spending cap of some sort, Brown might wheedle that handful of votes.

One possible scenario, according to a Brown adviser, would be for the governor to continue working the Cul de Sac for a couple more weeks and see what happens when his proposal is brought to a vote in the Legislature. If it fails to pass in the first house where it’s raised, then all hell breaks loose and Republicans in marginal districts get hammered for denying their constituents basic democratic rights.

Predictably, no Republican has yet put forth a formal legislative proposal on pension reform and there’s not a lot of time to consider one if one were forthcoming.

On the other hand, you want pension reform? Just check out Brown’s own campaign web site where he advocates: stopping pension spiking and abuse, renegotiations for a two-tiered system, and end to retroactive benefit enhancements, increased employee contributions, prohibiting pension “holidays,” independent oversight of pension funds, tightening of pension investment standards and a curb on investment placement agents.

All the Republicans have to do is get Brown to agree he will see that legislation seeking all of the above gets introduced and that he’ll fight tooth-and-nail for it and they’d have a pretty good deal to swap for a vote that just gives people a chance to decide if they want to extend some taxes and fees practically nobody is even aware of.

While only about a third of Californians are aware that some taxes and fees notched up a bit a couple of years ago, even fewer have any idea how California is financed or where the money is spent. Worse, according to the most authoritative study known to humankind on the issue of peoples’ knowledge about the California budget, it doesn’t friggin’ matter.

That’s what Eric McGhee at the Public Policy Institute of California demonstrated in “How Much Does the Public Know about the State Budget, and Does It Matter?” published in the California Journal of Politics and Policy. Here’s McGhee’s depressing conclusion:

The real driver of opinion on budget items is politics, not information. Popular programs like K-12 education receive strong support among all groups of voters, and unpopular ones like prisons do not. Within this variation, Republicans and conservatives oppose taxes and spending, while liberals and Democrats are more supportive of both. None of these conclusions is especially surprising, but the contrast with the weak effect of information is important nonetheless.

Overall, the results suggest no easy way out of our current budget impasse. The public might be confused about aspects of the California budget, but they have largely committed themselves to one side or the other in the budget wars. To the extent that they break ranks—for example, Democrats opposing spending or conservatives supporting taxes—it is tied to specific issues in a way that information affects only at the margins. As much as we may hope for it, we cannot educate the public and expect a clear path toward a balanced budget to emerge from the effort.

What this suggests is that a giant teach-in about the California budget is likely to have little effect. As we have argued before, what will matter – should Brown’s proposal make the ballot – is whether the issue is framed as a tax increase or an extension of existing taxes.