More than eight in 10 Californians agree that the state's budget presents a serious looming problem, but fewer than half believe Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed tax extensions are the right way to fix it, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll released Wednesday night.
About 49 percent of likely voters support the specifics of Brown's plan, which calls for the state to fill its budget gap with a split between budget cuts and tax increases. A smaller number, 41 percent, oppose it.
Just about half of likely voters, 51 percent, now believe that calling a June special election to vote on tax increases is a good idea, down from nearly two-thirds of likely voters polled in January.
Californians are also split between solutions to the state's budget mess. The proportion of adults that believes the answer lies in a mix of spending cuts and tax increases (38 percent) is almost identical to the proportion that would prefer spending cuts alone (37 percent).
"While many Californians still favor the approach the governor proposed in January, his plan to seek a budget solution through a June ballot has become a more difficult task to achieve," institute President Mark Baldassare said in a statement. "Even if the budget measure finds its way onto the ballot, state elected officials' low approval ratings could limit their ability to persuade voters to go along with a budget plan."
Those low approval ratings apply largely to the Legislature. According to the poll, about a quarter of all adults say they are satisfied with the performance of their state representatives. Brown's approval rating has dropped since January to 41 percent among all Californians. The poll notes that more voters are likely to approve of his performance than disapprove of it, but a large share of Californians are still not sure what to make of him.
PPIC's poll comes on the heels of a Field Poll released earlier this week that showed many voters, including Republicans, were warming up to the idea of a special election to vote on tax extensions. The poll also showed Brown's approval rating far exceeding that of the Legislature – a position he recently capitalized on by making an appeal directly to voters on YouTube.
Given time constraints and the partisan pushback he has gotten in the Legislature, Brown is already working on parallel tracks to put an initiative on the ballot, if not in June then reportedly in November.
Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, of Tulare, seized on the new poll results, arguing that they show an appetite for pension and spending reforms rather than tax extensions.
"Voters soundly rejected every statewide tax increase in the last two elections. Today’s poll shows they would do so again," Conway said in a statement. "We must focus on reforms like job creation, a spending cap and reining in public pension costs to ensure California never faces a deficit of this magnitude again."
Somewhat lost in the broader discussion, at least until recently, has been exactly how much these tax extensions would cost the average voter. Steve Lopez at the LA Times did the math and came up with the figure at the center of so much partisan consternation: $260.