As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

May 19 Special Gets Field Polled

A Field Poll released today shows support for 6 items on the May 19 statewide ballot (they neglected to poll the new and improved Prop. 13, which deals with prohibiting seismically retrofitted buildings from being classified as "new construction" for property value purposes, and will also be on the ballot). These are baseline numbers, as the awareness of the election is low and the turnout model is unclear. But I think we can conclude that this initial support is in no way firm, and at least two items are in peril. Here are the raw numbers:

Proposition 1A (Spending cap/tax extension)
Registered voters
Yes: 54 percent, No: 24

Likely voters in May special election
Yes: 57, No: 21

Proposition 1B (Education funding)
Registered voters
Yes: 59, No: 27

Likely voters
Yes: 53, No: 30

Proposition 1C (Lottery)
Registered voters
Yes: 48, No: 37

Likely voters
Yes: 47, No: 39

Proposition 1D (Early childhood services funding (Prop. 10))
Registered voters
Yes: 62, No: 20

Likely voters
Yes: 54, No: 24

Proposition 1E (Mental health funding(Prop. 63))
Registered voters
Yes: 61, No: 23

Likely voters
Yes: 57, No: 23

Proposition 1F (No raises for officials in deficit years)
Registered voters
Yes: 74, No: 17

Likely voters
Yes: 77, No: 13

The softest support is for Prop. 1C, the measure to sell the lottery, cashing in now to fill a budget hole in exchange for a long-term revenue loss. That's under 50% and could easily be tipped over if a No campaign explained that this will hurt long-term future revenues. A loss on this measure would put a $5 billion dollar hole in the signed budget that would have to be dealt with by June 15.

Most interesting is the case of Prop. 1A, the spending cap. The ballot language is going to be crucial here.

when told that the "rainy-day" measure, Proposition 1A, triggers as much as $16 billion in higher taxes through 2013, four out of 10 initial supporters said they were less inclined to vote for the measure, particularly Republicans and fiscal conservatives.

"I'd vote 'no' on that," said William Tate, 49, a South Lake Tahoe voter who said he'd support Proposition 1A before learning of the taxes. "They should just save some money and put it in a 'rainy-day fund' without taxing people. We've got too much bureaucracy in this state."

This of course is an expression of magic pixie-fairy Santa Claus conservatism at its worst, but there's no doubt that a sliver of the electorate will view things this way. And unlike other potential ballot measures around taxes, this is very tangible (your taxes will go up X) and there's no counter-argument of what voters are getting in return. In fact, they're getting an unpalatable spending cap that would ratchet down state services and tie the baseline to a budget put together during the worst economic crisis since the Depression. There's something for pretty much everyone to hate in Prop.1A, and the construction of it was a pure play to keep interest groups on the sidelines, and just to make sure no mere voter knows about it, they hid the truth from the ballot language.

When the Legislature places a measure on the ballot, however, it often bypasses the attorney general by specifying the ballot title and even indirectly designating those who write ballot pamphlet arguments. In other words, the Legislature, in league with the governor, tries to fix the election by fixing how measures are portrayed.

Cases in point are the six measures that the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are asking voters to approve in a hurry-up May 19 special election to implement much of their state budget deal.

The most important of the measures, Proposition 1A, would create a state spending limit and direct excess revenue into a "rainy day" account to be used when the economy and state revenue dip. But a very important provision of the package is that billions of dollars in new taxes would be short-circuited if Proposition 1A is rejected.

That "poison pill" is designed to discourage unions and other left-of-center groups – which despise state spending limits – from campaigning actively against the measure. But it indirectly gives conservative anti-tax groups, which despise the new levies, a potential weapon.

Voters won't be told any of that in the official title written by the Legislature, which reads this way: "RAINY DAY BUDGET STABILIZATION FUND. Reforms the budget process. Limits future deficits and overspending by increasing the size of the state 'rainy day' fund and requiring above-average revenues to be deposited into it, for use during economic downturns."

That's misleading on a whole host of fronts, not just on taxes but on the role of the spending cap. Our friend Anthony Wright at Health Access is teaming with the Howard Jarvis Association to file a lawsuit to overturn the ballot title and summary. The question is whether the larger groups will jump into the fray. That the legislature allowed this subterfuge can only empower the argument that they are trying to stealth tax everyone and will hurt future efforts at reform. It may well cause someone like a Meg Whitman with designs on the Governor's mansion to spend some of her fortune to beat it, and given that support drops from 57% to 34% at the mere mention of the tax issue (and particularly how its hidden from view), it wouldn't take that much. With progressives like Loni Hancock committed to killing the spending cap, this could be a strange bedfellows election.

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