Poll says California voters would take tax increases, spending cuts to balance budget

California Governor Jerry Brown speaks to reporters as he announces his proposed budget at the California State Capitol on January 10, 2011 in Sacramento, California.
California Governor Jerry Brown speaks to reporters as he announces his proposed budget at the California State Capitol on January 10, 2011 in Sacramento, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A new poll indicates a majority of California voters would support tax increases along with spending cuts to balance the budget.

Dan Schnur directed the USC/L.A. Times survey on what voters would do to solve the state's budget crisis.

"I think a couple things leap out at us when we look at this poll," says Schnur. "The first is how much more willing Californians are to consider a mix of tax increases and spending cuts, even compared to where they were last November. What we also see is how insistent voters are that they get a chance to weigh in on this themselves. The governor is very smart to continue his commitment to having this vote."

Governor Jerry Brown has been stumping around the state advocating for this combination of spending cuts and tax increases. "The voters are almost exactly where Governor Brown is in this discussion," adds Schnur. "They do support his mix of spending cuts and tax increases. They're also very willing to support a spending cap, and they're willing to support a whole range of changes to the state's pension system, which as many of your listeners know, has been the key for Governor Brown to gain support from Republicans in the Legislature."

A majority of the voters in California surveyed don't think it's a good idea to exclusively rely on an all cuts remedy for the budget problem. "That's a fairly dramatic change. When we last polled back in November, right after the election, a much larger number of Californians were willing to consider an all cuts budget.

"One thing that Governor Brown has clearly been able to accomplish over his first few months in office is to successfully warn voters as to the potential consequences of a budget that relied solely on cuts. Only 33 percent of Californians say that they'd be comfortable with an all cuts budget, and that number sinks even lower when it's suggested that might result in a reduction in K-12 education spending."

Republicans have been strongly pushing for pension reform. "The voters are very strongly supportive of both the Republican proposals for changes in the pension system and for a cap on state spending. So, on one hand, it's pretty clear that Governor Brown has support from the voters for his proposal as it now stands. But if he needed to move, on either a spending cap or on pension reforms in order to get Republican votes, it's equally clear that California voters would be very, very supportive of that deal as well."

Overall, people aren't feeling too happy in California. A quite strong pessimism was detected in the survey. "Californians are not happy. They are pessimistic. Of course, they want things to get better, but they're not particularly optimistic about when that's gonna happen."

Still 70 percent of voters say the state is on the wrong track. "Believe it or not, that 70 percent number is actually lower than it was when we polled last spring, when more than 80 percent of voters thought the state was on the wrong track. While no Californians are wildly optimistic, the most optimistic of Californians are our youngest voters and our most newly empowered voters, particularly in the Hispanic-American community."

Schnur explained what he thinks is behind that. "Over the years, over the decades, California's continually reinvented itself. From the Gold Rush, through the entertainment industry, through aerospace, through high technology. And it's worth remembering that the people who drive those changes in that reinvention of California tend to be young Californians and newly arrived Californians.

"They bring in optimism, they bring in energy. It allows the state to resurrect itself. And even in the depths of a recession like this one, I think looking forward, it's going to be those newly empowered voters and those youngest voters who drive the state's next great economic renaissance, in whatever shape or form it takes."

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