Budget Deficit

L.A. Times Buried Lede: 86% Support Cutting California Spending

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Just when I think I've gotten the full measure of the Los Angeles Times' dishonesty, the dying organ shows there are always new ways to lie. 

A Times/USC poll asks 1,503 registered California voters about their views on the state's structural budget and dying economy. It gets some grim views on the state's future and finds Californians very skeptical of the spending-heavy budget proposals supported by the Democratic machine that has monopoly control of the state's political functions (though somewhat favorable to Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal). 

You can read the question-by-question results here [pdf]. Only nine percent of Californians support balancing the budget by raising taxes. Three times as many Californians overall – and nearly six times as many Latinos – support closing the deficit by cutting spending rather than raising taxes. 

Everything was better when Kevin Starr was younger.

This is news. Californians have a long and well established history as spending-happy voters. In popular referenda during the last five years, California voters have voted themselves nearly $100 billion in bonded debt. The belief that Sacramento brought the Bear Republic into modernity through progressive taxation (the state boasts three different tax-collecting bodies) and wise spending (on everything from education to boards of chiropractory and horse welfare) is a bedrock of California identity, reflected in popular politics and the tombstone-sized state histories published every few years by Kevin Starr. 

The only time a poll result is news is when it differs from historical results, so compare these numbers with 2008 results, when large majorities opposed spending cuts and there was even broad majority support for traditionally popular tax increases, such as on cigarette sales. The current poll shows Golden State voters much more averse to tax increases and much more open to broad cuts than they have been in the past. It's not just news; it's big news: If Californians are this opposed to new spending, something must seriously be changing. 

Even more strikingly, the Times/USC poll finds that at least half of Golden State voters blame Sacramento and local governments for the state's bad-and-getting-worse economy. From a paragraph toward the end of the story

By 50% to 37%, voters surveyed said state policies and economic conditions have created a poor jobs climate, discouraging businesses from locating in California or expanding here. Less than a third, 29%, said they believed the economy was starting to improve, with 39% saying things were going to get worse and 28% saying the economy had bottomed out but was not getting better.

Other interesting points: A minority approves of Jerry Brown's performance, and a very large majority disapproves of the Democratic-controlled legislature. A plurality (41 percent) believe the deficit is due to "State leaders having been wasteful and have not spent wisely in recent year" – a much larger percentage than those who blame either "the national recession" (20 percent) or whatever the hell "not enough help for the struggling middle class and working people" means (13 percent). 

So what headline does the copy desk choose? "Californians support tax hikes to help close budget gap." 

This true-as-far-as-it-goes factoid comes from Question 36, wherein 53 percent support closing the deficit through "Combination of cutting spending and increasing taxes." But as the Golden State Liberty blog points out, this is not the question that's actually being considered in Sacramento: 

The set of questions pertaining to the tax hikes essentially ask subjects which approach would be best for covering the state's remaining budget shortfall. 54% [sic] of subjects said they favored a combination of spending cuts and higher taxes, which is what the Times is referring to. But, importantly, if you believe Sacramento's Democrats, that's not the option the voters need to consider; prominent Democrats are talking tax increases and new spending pretty much exclusively these days. Of those who preferred to see a mix of taxes and cuts, the majority hoped to see them in roughly equal proportion, which is certain[ly] not what's on the table in Sacramento. So how many respondents supported balancing the budget with tax increases only? 9%. Interestingly, poll respondents favored closing the deficit with spending cuts only at three times the rate others favored a tax-only solution.

Also left out of the Times story is the incredible pessimism the report reveals. Californians are in a smack-talking mood as regards the state's direction, political institutions, business climate, and immediate prospects (i.e., most believe the state's economy has yet to hit bottom).

It's good news that Californians are souring on a big, buttinski government that can't even bring itself to stop subsidizing free bus rides to Dodgers games. I wish I could read about it somewhere. I know there used to be this thing, that was delivered by kids on bikes, and it was on paper, and had news in it. I forget what it was called. 

Update: California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro has a response at Fox & Hounds Daily, covering something I wanted to include out but didn't because I wanted to keep this post short: This poll contains some of the most loaded, leading questions I've ever seen in a putative non-partisan opinion poll.