New survey reveals disconnect between Californians and state government

150 150 Christopher Nelson

(Photo Credit: Tax Credits)

Californians don’t think they are getting what they pay for.

At least that was the gist of one line of questioning in the results of a new survey just released by the California Business Roundtable and Pepperdine University.

Of all those polled, an average of 63 percent from groups of Democrats, Republicans, no party affiliation and Latino respondents answered that they aren’t getting what they paid for as taxpayers in the state.

There was also deep partisan divide on many issues that typically fall along partisan lines, such as the performance of each party in the state and the performance of Gov. Brown. No surprises there.

But one area of note where both parties were much more sharply in line with each other was the disconnect on the state’s budget process.

“We think it shows significant disengagement between the voters and the budget process,” said Dr. Michael Shires when presenting the data on a call earlier today.

An average of 58 percent thought that the state is running a deficit this year when in fact, for the first time in a decade, there is a surplus. 

When given the information that there are two surplus projections (one from Gov. Brown standing at $1.2 billion and another from the LAO office pegging it at $4.4 billion), half of those responded said lawmakers should use the more conservative estimate for planning and another 36 percent said they still weren’t sure.

So what do these numbers say about the responsiveness and efficiency of government and how accountable it is to its constituents? 

“Californians have a very negative view of the effectiveness of their elected officials to manage the state’s finances. In every dimension of the mechanics of managing the state’s finances, the state received failing grades—from encouraging job growth to reducing the deficit to providing quality education,” said Dr. Shires.

With just 27 percent of Californians having a favorable view of the Legislature, Dr. Shires notes that the trust deficit looms large and continues to fuel dissatisfaction with how lawmakers are responding to their constituents’ needs.

A new PPIC study, also just released this week, backs up this claim: “Strong majorities of adults (61 percent) and likely voters (70 percent) also say that the state government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves.”

And what do the numbers say about how effectively the state is in communicating its financial ins and outs?

“One of the biggest likely drivers of this perception, aside from the public just not paying attention, are the public debates unwinding within the Democratic leadership over spending priorities for the state.  Californians, like everyone else, tend to associate conflict with crisis and, for more than the past decade, California’s annual budget crisis has been a budget deficit,” Dr. Shires said.

After an emotionally exhausting general election culminating last November and a dramatically low voter turnout in Los Angeles, Dr. Shires also thinks plain old fatigue is a contributing factor. A whole crop of new scandals in Washington this year don’t help matters.

Of course, it will take time. While few watch the broadcasts of Gov. Brown’s budget presentation outside of political circles, many simply look to the quality of local services, such as schools and roads or anything touching their lives directly, to gauge the state’s fiscal health.

And this comes full circle back to taxpaying citizens feeling like they’re getting their money’s worth out of the state. As services were slashed to get us back in the black, we all continued to pay taxes. 

As taxpaying citizens are the lifeblood of all government operations, including salaries, it’s the very least Californians should not only expect, but demand of their elected officials.

Transparency leads to accountability which leads to a more efficient, responsive government. These are the hallmarks of California Forward’s work to improve government and bring it closer to the people. 


Christopher Nelson

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