For legislative Democrats, who think Gov. Jerry Brown's state budget plan doesn't do enough to restore billions of dollars in recent cuts, a new statewide poll may be a bit of a bummer: voters like Brown's approach more than theirs.
Wednesday night's poll from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California finds 55 percent of those surveyed prefer paying down budgetary debt and building a cash reserve to restoring social services programs. Only 39 percent prefer funding the programs as a priority for additional cash.
Read the poll here
Of course, those results don't capture voter sentiment on a big budget issue still in dispute: how much money there is to spend.
Democrats in both houses have embraced a more optimistic cash projection than that of Brown - about $3 billion more, as calculated by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office. That kind of money could, in theory, allow a little of both priorities.
That is, if Democrats in the Assembly and Senate can convince the governor to go along with the rosier forecast.
"I'm not willing to bet on capital gains and Wall Street," Brown told reporters Wednesday afternoon. "We've been disappointed too often."
The governor has a reputation for having a pretty good read of the electorate, and the PPIC poll validates that. When the pay-debts-or-restore programs question was asked of likely voters, Brown's generally conservative approach was favored over restoring programs by an almost two to one ratio, 62 percent to 32 percent.
That may be, in part, because so many Californians in the new poll doubt the tough times are over. 67 percent of likely voters still see the state's fiscal issues as a big problem. And more adults say the state is on the wrong track (48 percent) than the right track (46 percent). The gloomy assessment comes mostly from older Californians; a majority of those ages 18-34 are optimistic about things.
And maybe that, plus those who vote ratifying Proposition 30 last fall, is what explains the most interesting trend line measured in the new poll: the number of Californians willing to pay higher taxes for more government services is plummeting.
Last May, PPIC found a huge 21 point gap in the number of Californians who want more taxes/more services and those who want less taxes/less services; 58 percent were willing to pay more in taxes, 37 percent were willing to live with fewer services. The new poll finds that 21 point gap has shrunk all the way down to four points. Now, only 48 percent favor the more taxes/more services option, while 44 percent want less taxes/less services.
Maybe that's a sign that they think Prop 30 was enough; maybe it reflects a new concern about their personal finances. But it clearly plays in the governor's favor when it comes to his somewhat more cautious approach to taxes and services.
The new PPIC poll also finds strong support for Brown's plan to send additional money to school districts teaching low income and English learner students (77 percent support), and support for the general outlines of his budget plan (61 percent support). The governor's own job approval rating is now at 48 percent, and it's hovered right around the middle point now for several months - not exactly ringing support, but fairly strong in a state where pats on the back for politicians have been pretty rare in recent years.
Elsewhere, the poll finds growing support for same sex marriage and some gun control proposals. Those surveyed also continue to support a new pathway to citizenship for those without legal immigration status.
There are also some survey results on issues pending before the Legislature worth noting - issues that majority Democrats are still wrestling with, and ones that could pose a tough choice for Gov. Brown should bills on them be sent to his desk this fall.
The PPIC poll finds very little support for new oil drilling in California using the procedure known as fracking, which involves using high pressure water or chemicals to extract oil and gas. Only 39 percent of those surveyed support expansion of that practice, which may bolster liberal Democrats in the state Capitol who want to ban it.
But the poll also finds strong opposition to efforts to loosen the local tax increase rules originally established by the 1978 anti-tax initiative Proposition 13. When asked about support for special local tax hikes being passed by a 55 percent vote (it's now a two-thirds vote threshold), a majority said no - 53 percent. Democrats, most notably in the state Senate, have proposals to do just that - proposals that would have to appear on the November 2014 statewide ballot to take effect.
Jerry Brown, whose third go round as governor has highlighted his generally cautious political tendencies, probably could see a lot he agrees with in this new poll. Voters may be feeling a little more bold on social issues, a little less so when it comes to their pocketbook. That's a comfortable place for the frugal man who serves as their chief executive.