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Voters support reform but which ones?

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 at 10:32 am in constitutional reform.

New Field Poll figures released this morning at a constitutional change conference in Sacramento show voters like the idea of reforming the way they govern themselves.

But they are reluctant to make the kinds of reforms that have been discussed such as reducing the two-thirds voting threshold to pass a state budget or raise taxes, modifying or eliminating term limits and altering the California tax system.

“The rub is, what are we going to reform?” said Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo. “It’s going to be a tall order to put a package before voters that they will support.”

Kimberly Nalder with Cal-State University compared it to the person who hires a trainer but says he will not exercise or east less.  Then six months later, he complains about his trainer.

“That’s California voters,” she said. “They are confused.”

The poll was commissioned for today’s “Getting to Reform: Avenues to Constitutional Change in California,” sponsored by UC-Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West and California Stat’s Center for California Studies. Pollsters surveyed 1,005 registered voters between Sept. 18-Oct. 5. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percent for the full sample and plus or minus 4.5 percent for subsets.

The daylong conference is being held at the Sacramento Convention Center, and I’m here all day.

The poll’s key findings:

51 percent believe the state needs to make fundamental changes to its constitution.

48 percent prefer to see a single package of reforms on the ballot rather than a piecemeal manner like the initiative process. 40 percent like the individual measure process.

51 percent support a reform process that uses a constitutional convention rather than a commission appointed by legislators and the governor.

63 percent support the appointment of a broad range of people to rewrite the constitution, including average voters, elected officials and experts.

60 percent would be willing to consider serving on a constitutional reform delegation.

If California is going to reform its constitution, 59 percent prefer limiting its scope to issues of governance and exclude social issues.

52 percent oppose a recent state tax commission proposal to flatten the personal income tax.

65 percent oppose a replacement of the corporate income and sales taxes for a broader tax.

52 percent oppose the elimination of the two-thirds voting threshold in the Legislature to adopt a budget.  That figure goes even higher among Republicans — 69 percent.

69 percent reject the elimination of the Prop. 13 mandate that new taxes require a two-thirds vote. Among Republicans, that figure is 86 percent.

52 percent oppose splitting the tax roll, which would allow the state to increase taxes on commercial properties at a rate higher than that imposed on residential properties.

66 percent support the imposition of a requirement that ballot initiatives identify the source of funds for new programs.

56 percent would support requiring a two-thirds vote on all ballot initiatives that change the state constitution.

57 percent believe the state could continue to provide current levels of service without new taxes if it would strip waste, fraud and abuse from government.

49 percent disapprove of the idea of merging the Assembly and Senate into a single legislative body. 35 percent like the idea.

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  • John W.

    Love the personal trainer analogy. So true. Surprised there’s nothing in there about sunsetting programs, especially those enacted by initiative, where future generations are stuck with stuff passed decades ago. Requiring ballot initiatives to identify funding sources (taxes, fees, reductions in other programs) is a good idea. Advertising for and against ballot initiatives should be required to conspicuously display any party contributing 10 percent or more of the financing — using real world info, not “Committee for a Better California” or the like.

  • Joan Clendenin

    The survey results do not surprise me. I have been following most of these issues and the “electorate” is angry but unfocused on reforms. Also, there is so much wrong with our California government, it’s hard to know where to start the repair/reform efforts. If I were in charge, I’d wait for a few years after reapportionment and see if a “fair” redistringing produces a different balance in the Legislature. The current group cannot agree on much of anything important. They are too focused of stupid stuff like Harvey Milk Day.

  • Ralph Hoffmann, Guest Columnist

    What percent support / oppose modifying or eliminating term limits?

  • Jack Anderson

    The people of California want less government and “socialist” entitlement spending programs ergo reduced spending. They definitely do not want to be lectured by some self-important academic or media baffoon. Lisa V, as usual, portrays California voters (CCT Readers) as “confused” (Yes I realize she quotes an academic idealogue but she is consistent in her portrayal of California voters). The slant of the article under her byline is consistent with the CCT left leaning bash the “non-leftist” people of California.

  • Elwood

    California voters confused?

    The ones that bother to vote at all?

    I’m shocked! Shocked I tell you, shocked!