Californians Less Sure about Changing Budget Vote Requirement

The Public Policy Institute of California’s
recently released “Californians and their Government Survey” has
yielded some fascinating information on the current mindset of Golden
State residents.

Generally speaking, the poll shows that most
Californians aren’t happy with Sacramento and may not support several
of the ballot measures coming up on the May 19 special election.

The survey, which contacted just over 2000 residents by telephone March 10-17, also showed a couple of other interesting items. One
of which is that, oddly, the fervor to repeal the two-thirds state
budget vote requirement has slipped 10 percentage points.

The
current supermajority vote, required by the California Constitution,
has been at the heart of the months-long budget standoff between the
majority Democrats and the small handful of obstructionist Republican
lawmakers. Those same GOPers ultimately used the requirement (and their
votes) to force concessions and other deals. California is one of just
three states in the nation requiring a supermajority to pass a budget.

Many
Democratic state lawmakers said that as soon as the standoff was over
they would immediately go to work on getting an initiative on the
ballot to amend the requirement to a 55 percent vote requirement.

Now
however the PPIC poll shows that Californians are not as sure about
changing the state Constitution as they were a few weeks ago. In
January, a majority of likely voters (53 percent) said lowering the
threshold was a good idea. Currently, 43 percent of likely voters think
it is a good idea while 49 percent think it is a bad one. Broken out
amongst political party affiliation, Democrats are strongly supportive
of making the change. Not surprisingly, most Republican survey
respondents stand opposed.

The reasons for this backslide are not entirely obvious. Perhaps
the idea of making it easier for the majority to pass an annual budget
on time has given Californians second thoughts. Perhaps, down deep,
they want to see their lawmakers struggle to form a spending plan that defacto must pick up at least some votes from the opposition party in order to pass.

Whatever
their reasons, the idea of the elected lawmakers the 8th economic power
in the world fighting like cranky 4-year-olds over the course of months
in order to pass a budget is as damaging as it is embarrassing.

One
can hope that Democratic leaders understand that the campaign for this
constitution amendment has to be more of a voter educational outreach
effort than a traditional partisan effort.

Clearly, the state must change this archaic requirement.

But as noted earlier, most Golden State residents are very concerned about most things coming out of Sacramento these days. In
order to get this budget requirement changed, Californians must be
presented with a logical and rational argument supporting why this
would be good move for the entire state. If the voters get a whiff that
this is just another effort to consolidate power for the majority, the
measure will likely — and unfortunately — be rejected.

Jeff Mitchell is a longtime California journalist and political observer.