Voter support is giving Gov. Jerry Brown a tailwind as he heads into negotiations over the state budget and school finance reform with the Legislature.
A new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that Californians continue to overwhelmingly back Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula, even though superintendents of suburban districts are very unhappy with the share they’d get, and Democrats in the Senate and Assembly want to change parts of it. The poll found 77 percent of all respondents, 83 percent of public school parents and 87 percent of Democrats favored it after hearing a one-sentence description that said the LCFF would give each district more than it got this year and would funnel additional dollars to English learners and low-income students. Even a majority of Republicans (57 percent) supported it. The level of support was 6 percentage points higher than in April, even though Brown’s plan has received more scrutiny.
As for the overall state budget, Brown’s May revision was favored by a healthy 61 percent, with likely voters at 60 percent, Democrats at 74 percent and, perhaps surprisingly, Republicans at 49 percent. (The question included a one-sentence summary that said the budget would “increase spending on K-12 schools, higher education, health and human services, and corrections and rehabilitation, create a $1.1 billion reserve, and pay down the state’s debt” – a framing that advocates for restoring social services cuts would dispute.) The poll, taken of 1,704 adults, has a margin of error of 3.8 percent.
Respondents also overwhelmingly endorsed a new idea in the May revision: giving schools $1 billion to implement the new Common Core standards. That got a 73 percent endorsement overall with only 21 percent opposed. Parents of public school students backed it 86 to 13 percent.
Using higher projections of revenue by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the Assembly and Senate budgets include $3 billion more in their versions of the budget, and propose to spend more than $700 million of that restoring cuts to mental health, adult dental care and college students’ financial aid, although the two chambers disagree over how to divvy it up. Based on the PPIC poll, Brown could argue that voters want a conservative approach. Asked to choose between spending more to pay down debt and build up a budget reserve or to restore cuts for social services, Californians chose the former, 55 to 39 percent, with 62 percent of likely voters and 75 percent of Republicans stating that preference. Democrats were about evenly split.
The Proposition 13 question
With the passage of Proposition 30 in November, Brown and legislative leaders have said there’ll be no entertaining bills for additional taxes this year. But the PPIC poll must warm the hearts of those who say it’s time to make changes to Proposition 13, which limits property taxes and imposes a two-thirds majority requirement for new taxes. The poll reaffirmed long-standing support for Prop. 13: 61 percent of voters agree it’s been mostly good. But 58 percent of all respondents and 56 percent of voters also said they support assessing commercial property at current market value. That change has been pushed by tax reform groups, because commercial properties, through complex transfer of ownership arrangements, have not changed hands as often as homes and so have continued to be assessed at lower rates. As a result, commercial property owners have ended up paying a declining portion of property taxes over the years.
Lenny Goldberg, executive director of the California Tax Reform Association, said that he’s not rushing off to change Prop. 13. Depending on how the issue is worded, other polls have found less than majority support for a “split-roll” approach to property taxes (regularly assessing commercial properties while assessing homes only when they turn over). A campaign to educate voters would precede a ballot issue; Goldberg wants to bring the issue to the Legislature in 2015.
What might go to voters next year is an initiative to lower the threshold for passing a school parcel tax from two-thirds to 55 percent. Former state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, sought for a decade to get the Legislature to put that initiative before voters, but couldn’t find a Republican willing to support it. Now that Democrats have a supermajority in the Legislature, Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, is authoring Senate Constitutional Amendment 3, establishing the 55 percent threshold for parcel taxes. Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, is the author of SCA 11, which would lower the threshold for all special taxes – for schools, transportation, police and safety, etc. – to 55 percent.
The PPIC poll indicated that voters don’t like the idea of the lower 55 percent threshold in general: 42 percent of likely voters said they were for it, with 53 percent against. But Leno said he’s confident that 55 percent specifically for school parcel taxes would be more popular. And there’s a precedent: Voters in 2000 passed Prop. 39, which lowered the threshold on school bonds to 55 percent.
SCA 3 and SCA 11 didn’t have to be voted on by May 31, as did other bills. Legislators will take up both proposed initiatives next spring.