California’s looming $20-billion budget hole should be fixed by slashing spending, say voters in a new multilingual Field Poll survey on state government.
But taxation as part of the solution found more favor among the state’s diverse populations of Asians, Latinos and African Americans. They were more likely to prefer a mix of spending cuts and taxation as a way to shrink the deficit.
The aim of the poll, which was co-sponsored by several policy institutes, was to gauge public views on governmental reform at a time when various proposals have been floated. While an effort to put before voters a ballot initiative to call a constitutional convention has faltered, other reform proposals are still active.
The poll also asked its respondents whether the state constitution should be changed, in particular the rule requiring a two-thirds majority to pass a budget and the simple majority required to amend the constitution.
While an overwhelming majority of voters of all ethnic and racial groups report dissatisfaction with how state government works for them, most felt that the solution was for legislators to work together, not to change the way government works.
But there were significant differences among voters along ethnic and racial lines. Among Asians, there were some differences based on ethnicity. Chinese Americans, for example, were less supportive of taxation as a strategy to raise revenues and close the budget gap than other Asian groups, and more supportive of spending cuts. Thirty-five percent said spending cuts alone were the way to go, with just nine percent choosing mostly taxation and some spending cuts.
Korean Americans, on the other hand, leaned toward taxation, with 52 percent supporting solutions that included at least half tax increases with spending cuts. Their attitudes on the budget fixes were comparable to those of African Americans, 49 percent of whom favored solutions that were also based at least half upon tax increases. For Latinos, that number was 46 percent, reflecting a greater reluctance to cut spending on government programs and services.
Perhaps the most notable difference was revealed in the survey question about the idea of eliminating the two-thirds requirement for budget votes. Many reform advocates believe that gridlock in Sacramento is owed in large measure to that rule because it allows one party to block budget changes with a minority vote. Although a minority in the Legislature, Republicans wield the power to veto any spending proposal.
While the poll results found that just 43 percent of voters surveyed thought the two-thirds rule should be changed to a simple majority rule on budget votes, the idea found greatest favor among African Americans. By 63 percent they liked that idea, complementing their views that also favored taxation with spending cuts as a way to tame the deficit.
Survey findings also revealed significant differences between respondents who were questioned in English and those questioned in their native language. The Field Poll surveyed sub-samples of voters in Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Korean and Spanish. Those who responded in their native language were two to three times more likely to be uncertain about how they view the state government and the proposals to change government than English speakers.
The poll surveyed more than 1,200 registered voters by telephone and included samples of voters from the different ethnic subgroups. It was co-sponsored by Next 10, a nonprofit policy group in San Francisco; Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West; UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies; and Sacramento State’s Center for California Studies.