A new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California finds that Californians’ trust in their state government has reached a record low and their desire for change is high.
Californians are cautious about the types of reforms they are willing to support. Huge majorities are willing to support a shift to an open primary system (70%) but only 23% favor reducing the legislature to part-time status.
The research by the PPIC shows deep distrust in state government on the part of the voters. Nearly three-fourths (73%) say it is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves, a new high in the 11-year history of the PPIC Statewide Survey. Just 20 percent say that state government is run for the benefit of all of the people.
Residents retain more confidence in their own abilities to make policy decisions. A small majority (56%) say that decisions made through the initiative process are probably better than those made through the legislative process and only 28% say they are probably worse. Californians continue to feel that Proposition 13 and term limits—two constitutional changes made by initiative—have mainly been good for the state.
Not surprisingly, Californians are in agreement that the budget situation is a problem and two-thirds see it as a big problem–78 percent seeing it as a big problem and 18 percent calling it somewhat of a problem. The 78 percent figure matches a record high first reached in September 2008. A majority (60%) are very concerned about the effect of spending cuts on local government services—far more than when PPIC asked a similar but less detailed question five years ago (35% August 2004).
80% see the budget process as in need of major changes which marks a steady increase since March of 2008. This view is held across political parties, demographic groups, and regions. Californians were asked to consider three fiscal reform ideas under discussion:
• Spending cap: Most (65%) say it would be a good idea to strictly limit increases in state spending each year (28% bad idea).
• Two-thirds vote to pass a budget: A majority (53%) say it would be a good idea to lower the threshold needed for budget passage to 55 percent of the legislature (38% bad idea).
• Two-thirds vote for local special taxes: Half (50%) say it would be a good idea to lower this requirement to 55 percent of voters (42% bad idea).
There have been increased calls for review and perhaps revision of the constitution, but the survey does not show support for this among the voters. Only 33 percent of Californians say major changes to the constitution are needed, while 36 percent say minor changes are needed and 24 percent say the constitution is fine as it is.
Two landmark initiatives are seen mostly as a good thing for California. Proposition 13 (55% mostly a good thing, 30% mostly a bad thing, 12% don’t know), which limits property taxes on both residential and commercial buildings, and term limits (59% good thing, 15% a bad thing, 23% no difference), which limits state legislators’ terms to six years in the assembly and eight in the senate.
However, the survey found that residents also support changes to these measures. A majority (58%) say it would be a good idea to tax commercial properties according to current market value, known as a “split roll.” A majority (65%) also say it would be a good idea to modify term limits by reducing the total number of years lawmakers could serve—from 14 to 12—but allowing years of service to be in either house or a combination of both.
Even though residents are pleased with direct democracy, overwhelming majorities favor two possible reforms to the initiative process:
• Increasing public disclosure of funding sources for signature gathering and campaigns (81% favor, 14% oppose)
• Having a period of time in which the initiative sponsor and the legislature could meet to see if a compromise is possible before putting the measure on the ballot (80% favor, 15% oppose).
Support has grown since March for a change in the state’s primary system that would allow voters to cast ballots for any candidate, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election regardless of party with 70% favoring support regardless of party, region, and demographic group. But residents’ negative views of their full-time legislature do not mean they see a shift to a part-time legislature as a solution: 44 percent say it would be a bad thing, 23 percent a good thing, and 27 percent say it would make no difference.
Californians’ perception of the economy has improved since July, perhaps in response to recent positive economic indicators. But residents’ views are far from positive: 67 percent say the state can expect bad times financially in the next 12 months.
The negative views about the direction of the state are reflected in views about state leaders. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s approval rating (30%) is near his record low in July (28%), and his disapproval rating has hit a new high of 61 percent. The legislature’s rating (21%) inched up from its low (17% July). Californians’ approval of their own legislators (34%) remains near its lowest level (32% March 2009).*
*Information in this post based on a recent article in California Progress Report