In DC We Trust... Not Sacramento

January 28, 2009 · Filed Under CA Budget, CA Politics · Comments Off 

Californians sure are caught up in this hope and change vibe in politics. But only when it applies to what's happening in the nation's capital, not the state capital.

That's one of the conclusions to draw from tonight's new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California. Most striking: 79% of those surveyed believe Barack Obama will be a "strong and capable president." And lest you think that's being driven by the state's majority Democrats, the poll found 66% of Republicans feel the same way.

73% say they think the nation will unite behind the man from Illinois; only 44% said the same about his predecessor, the man from Texas, in 2001.

But asked about the men and women in charge of state government, and things get ugly. Governor Schwarzenegger's job approval rating is down to 40% in the new PPIC poll, and just 30% on specifically his handling of jobs and the economy. In January 2007, when he began his second term, Schwarzenegger's overall approval rating stood at 58%.

21% approval for the Legislature overall; a measly 15% approve their work on jobs and the economy.

Worse still, 75% think the state is headed in the wrong direction, and most think the state budget fiasco is a big deal. And how would they solve it? A mix of spending cuts and tax increases was the most picked choice (44%). Also worth noting: while K-12 education was most chosen as the part of the budget to protect from the axe, health and human services was second among all subgroups... again, including Republicans. Least desired to be protected by all groups: prison spending.

The governor's proposal to temporarily increase the state sales tax to help solve the problem is okay with 52% of those surveyed; his call to possibly shorten the school year to save money was roundly rejected by 63%.

And the result that will no doubt get the tongues wagging among those who hate the state's supermajority budget vote requirement: 54% of respondents favor reducing it to a 55% vote in each house of the Legislature, an eight point uptick since 2003.

Schwarzenegger was asked about that today during his appearance at the Sacramento Press Club (yes, we get the polls early and thus ask about it before we can ever actually report the results). His response? Fix other things, from redistricting to the polarized political primary system, first. "I think it's not the two-thirds vote that is the problem, I think that the political system that we have in place is really the problem," he said.

It's worth noting that PPIC's poll does not ask whether voters would change the requirement of a supermajority vote on tax increases. Remember that without this provision of Proposition 13 being changed, the current $40 billion budget mess still would need GOP support if the solution includes taxes... that is, unless the Democratic no-GOP-tax plan was resurrected.

And before those on the left get too excited about the willingness to consider scrapping the supermajority budget vote, they should note another PPIC poll finding: 70% say they support a strict limit on annual state spending increases. That sounds like a new spending cap... one of the issues being demanded by Republican legislators.

If you're looking for the voters to figure this one out, it would seem, keep on looking.

The Pros and Cons of Spending Caps

June 20, 2008 · Filed Under Ballot Measures, CA Budget, Political Parties and Independents, The Governor · Comments Off 

With all of the talk this week, and this budget season, about a new constitutionally mandated cap on state spending, we decided to take a wider view of the issue.

On this morning's edition of The California Report, I reported not just on the spending cap proposals being talked about by both legislative Republicans and Governor Schwarzenegger, but also a look back at why some say the state's exisiting spending cap (yes, there's already one on the books) was modified in 1990.

The story is about 2:40 into this morning's program, which you can hear below.

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The Problem Is The Problem

June 18, 2008 · Filed Under CA Budget, CA Politics, Political Parties and Independents, The Governor · Comments Off 

On the surface, the pitched PR battle waged today between Democrats and Republicans seems like it's flavored with a dash of the same old spin.

But in reality, it goes to the heart of the literal budget problem that's plagued California's statehouse for years: a stalemate caused by virtually incompatible political ideologies.

Today's first volley was fired by Republicans. In a morning news conference, GOP legislators placed plans for a new government spending limit on the negotiating table. The proposal outline calls for a constitutional amendment to limit the annual growth in budget expenditures to the percentage change in California's population growth and inflation. Any revenues above that estimate would be automatically transferred into a reserve fund earmarked for resolving budget shortfalls and/or debt repayment.

That part of the proposal is a dead ringer for plans submitted in 2003 by both a former GOP legislator and one backed by the newly elected Governor Schwarzenegger after the 2003 recall. Those plans used the same "cap" formula, one that a 2003 analysis by the California Budget Project suggested could result in extra deep cuts to almost everything but public school funding, which would still be protected by the Proposition 98 guarantee. But the proposal differs from the latest call for budget reform by the governor, whose much-ballyhooed plan focuses on revenue forecasting.

The dilemma of which side of the ledger to focus on is why today's skirmish is really a clear view of the chasm between the two parties. For several years, legislative Republicans have stuck to a saying that Schwarzenegger himself latched on to during the 2005 special election: "We don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem."

Senate GOP Leader Dave Cogdill put it even more bluntly in comments to reporters this morning: "This state has a spending addiction."

An hour later, Democrats took Republicans to task, using-- for the first time I've heard-- the exact converse of the now well-worn GOP adage.

"We don't have a spending problem," said Assemblymember Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa). "We have a revenue problem." Democrats are pushing hard for a solution this year that includes some new source of revenue... as much as $6 billion... to pay for the state services that they say everyone in California, regardless of party, is demanding.

Some of this divergence in world views is clearly due to a dispute over just what kinds of factors should be considered when building a state budget. Should spending decisions only be made once revenues are known? Should the state first decide what services it values and then figure out how to pay for them? Should spending be tightly linked to the budgets of years past? Or should it be flexible -- both in tax increases and tax cuts -- depending on the needs of the time?

That's the problem that's kept several years worth of budget talks dragging into the sizzling Sacramento summer. And it's the problem that threatens to do the same this time, too.

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