A new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California seems to show a tough (but not impossible) road for Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to extend and increase taxes to help alleviate some of the state’s fiscal problems. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
According to the poll, 62 percent of likely voters said they want a special election, up 6 percentage points from April and 11 percentage points from March. However, 46 percent of likely voters said they supported the taxes while 48 percent said they opposed them.
According to an analyst interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, the tax measures need to be polling in the 60s–at least 12 points higher than now–to have any prayer of passing if they’re put on the ballot. But Brown does not seem deterred–he’s pledged to fulfill his campaign promise of letting voters decide whether they want to tax themselves and save certain functions of state government, or not tax themselves and absorb cuts.
What’s unclear is what happens if Brown can’t keep that promise–if he’s unable to convince Republicans in the legislature and a majority of California voters to go along with the plan. For one, California would be back to the drawing board on complying with the US Supreme Court’s recent ruling directing the state to relieve overcrowding in its prison system. Brown’s budgetary plan, dependent on passing taxes, involves sending 33,000 prison inmates to county jails along with money for the counties to house them (jail, which generally has fewer amenities, is cheaper than prison–hence the overall cost-savings). Brown believes that such a move would bring California into compliance with the Supreme Court’s order, which requires California to get from about 175 percent capacity to 137.5 percent capacity in the next two years. (Though today, Brown announced the state will ask for more time to comply with the ruling.)
With state officials, most of the majority-holding Democrats, and the Governor focused on pushing taxes as a solution, it’s unclear what the back-up plan is–or what the other choice would theoretically be for voters deciding whether or not to approve these taxes.
Realistically, it seems the alternative might be piecemeal. According to Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway’s Press Secretary Sabrina Lockhart, Republicans, who currently oppose Brown’s prison overcrowding plan and tax plan, are keeping a number of options on the table, which could be combined to reduce the prison population. First, there’s the possibility of contracting more beds out of state (currently, California has 9,816 inmates in out-of-state contract beds and 4,919 in in-state contract beds). There’s the possibility of using AB900 funds to construct more facilities, upping the state’s overall capacity.
At the moment, however, according to the governor’s Deputy Press Secretary Elizabeth Ashford, realignment is the only option the Brown administration is interested in. “We are not contemplating a plan B,” Ashford said. The governor needs four Republicans–two in the Senate and two in the Assembly–to change their positions before the taxes can reach the ballot.