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%.
What 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.