Californians Want that Cake Over There, But Are Well Prepared To Eat This Cake Over Here

UPDATE:  Here’s the direct link to the survey.

A while back Dave Dayen wrote about the Two Santa Claus Theory and its effect on California governance, and today we get just one more data point to illustrate the general point of what the theory has done to the state. Californians want lots of services, but want somebody else to pay for them.

In today’s PPIC poll, we get the data that 70% of Californians are opposed to state budget cuts and increased fees for the state’s higher education system. Nonetheless majorities still find that the systems, UC, CSU, and the community colleges, as “good”. So, despite the cuts, they are still getting good marks.

The paradox of this whole thing comes in the area of paying to keep the doors open.  Thus the cake reference:

In the context of the state budget situation, most Californians place a very high (26%) or high (33%) priority on spending for public higher education, which at $12.2 billion is the third-largest area of spending in the budget. But residents split along partisan lines, with 67 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of independents putting a very high or high priority on spending in this area, compared to 42 percent of Republicans. The same percentage of Republicans (42%) puts a medium priority on higher education spending.

Given the high value that most Californians place on spending for higher education, what would they be willing to do to offset state spending cuts?

   * 68 percent are unwilling to increase student fees. Solid majorities across parties, regions, and demographic groups concur.

   * 56 percent are unwilling to pay higher taxes. Although 56 percent of Democrats are willing to pay higher taxes for this purpose, 58 percent of independents and 74 percent of Republicans are not.

   * 53 percent would support a higher education construction bond measure on the 2010 ballot. But support is lower among likely voters (46% yes, 47% no) for this hypothetical bond measure and would fall short of the simple majority threshold needed to pass such a measure. Here, too, a partisan split emerges, with 61 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents saying they would vote yes on a bond and 55 percent of Republicans saying they would vote no.

There are recognitions here that fees are too high and that we need to preserve access. And Californians seem to understand just how important higher education really is to our future economy.  However, there is just some sort of disconnect between having good schools and paying for good schools.

This is the wage of the Two Santa Claus Theory, that we could have lots of services and have lots of tax cuts, and everything would be great.

Yet, if the state isn’t broken already, as Robert has consistently and persuasively argued, the state is clearly ready to collapse under the expectations of something for nothing. Yes, getting revenue for higher ed spending and other spending priorities will be difficult, and perhaps we’ll lose some elections because progressives dare to speak of the essential paradox in California governance since 1978.

However, this is critical to our future. And winning elections is only so important as retaining actual power. If progressive hands are tied and we are able to only preside over the collapse, what’s the prize there? Who wants to win just to be the government that saw the state’s quality of life decrease. Progressive candidates and campaigns need to clearly articulate a vision for the future where California is a better state nine years from now than it is today. If we can’t do that, what’s really the point?  

5 thoughts on “Californians Want that Cake Over There, But Are Well Prepared To Eat This Cake Over Here”

  1. 1. this bodes well for the oil severance tax dedicated to higher education idea that some have been floating, as long as it can be sold as screwing oil corps and not consumers.

    2. of course they want both. what needs to be done is to force an either-or choice, and make it explicit.

  2. there really does need to be an ability to articulate a vision for the future of California which will make it better. If that can’t be done than people ought to get out of the way and let others try and improve things. At the same time, people need to honestly look at every program and see if the programs are justified or need reshaping to meet the everchanging needs of the people in California.

    The high marks the public gives in recent polling to all three branches of public higher education bodes well for the oil severance tax. We are rapidly closing off access to higher education for hundreds of thousands of Californians.  

  3. This poll and the tired messaging around it are problematic.

    The question is always asked such that the only way to pay for education, parks, infrastructure, you name it is through something like a bond and ultimately through the current tax structure, which falls more heavily on the middle class, are the majority of voters.

    Progressive revenue options are never presented as an alternative, and voters (rightly I think) are refusing to support the magnification of an unfair tax burden. Change up the polling question to give a progressive taxation option and we may see a quite different result.

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