Reporting from Sacramento — Despite the struggling economy, most California voters oppose suspending the state's landmark global warming law, which would place strict new environmental regulations on business, a new Los Angeles Times/ USC poll shows.
Proposition 23, which would put the new emissions standards on hold, is trailing 48% to 32% among likely voters, according to the survey.
But as voters look inclined to stay the course with the state's global warming policies, they appear ready to radically change state budget policy. The poll found that 58% of likely voters support Proposition 25, which would replace the constitutional requirement that the state budget be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature with a simple majority vote requirement. Such a change would allow Democrats to pass a budget without any GOP votes under the current makeup of the Legislature.
The push to suspend the global warming law has been bankrolled in large part by out-of-state oil refining companies that stand to see profits decline as a result of the state's new regulations. The ballot measure would suspend implementation of the new air pollution rules until unemployment drops to 5.5% or less for a full year. State analysts say that could take many years, as the unemployment rate has stayed that low for a sustained period only three times since 1970.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been campaigning aggressively against the ballot measure. The global warming law, passed in 2006, is the governor's signature legacy-burnishing achievement. Analysts say he and other opponents have effectively tapped into voter attitudes toward big oil.
Lack of enthusiasm for the measure is "not so much about how voters feel about the merits of the global warming law itself, but rather the efforts of outside oil companies to pull a fast one," said Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College. "The opponents have run a very smart campaign with lots of advertising."
Tobias Martinez of Riverside, a 45-year-old truck driver, is among the voters troubled by oil company involvement in the measure. "When you see that they are funding it, it begins to look like this is something just to benefit them," said Martinez, who is registered "decline to state." "They want to be able to produce more pollutants.... It doesn't make sense that stopping the improvement of air quality would create jobs."
The poll was conducted for The Times and the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences by the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and the Republican firm American Viewpoint. Results are based on 922 likely voters. Results for the full sample of 1,501 registered voters, reached by landline or cellphone Oct. 13-20, have a 2.5-percentage-point margin of sampling error. There is a 3.2-point margin of sampling error for likely voters. Only half the sample was surveyed about Proposition 25. That question has a 4.6-point margin of sampling error.
Democrats and independents oppose Proposition 23 in large numbers, the poll shows, while it is leading narrowly among Republicans, with 41% supporting and 36% opposed.
Among those Republicans is Anthony Morales, 47, a restaurant owner in the Chico area, north of Sacramento. "Right now is not the time" to impose the new emissions rules, he said. "I believe there is global warming, but I don't believe it is happening as rapidly as the government says."
The proposal to change the legislative vote threshold needed to pass a budget, meanwhile, would dramatically alter the political dynamic in Sacramento. Proposition 25 is pitched by supporters as a means to end Sacramento's notorious budget gridlock. In their advertisements, supporters also have stressed that the measure would dock lawmakers' pay if a budget was not passed on time. The measure would leave in place a two-thirds vote requirement for broad tax hikes.
The change would give Democrats, who are expected to command solid majorities in the Assembly and Senate after this election, full control of the budget process in the Legislature. But the poll shows Proposition 25 with strong support across party lines. Among registered Republicans, 47% support it and 38% are opposed. Registered Democrats favor the measure 62% to 20%.
"We've gone through serial extended budget crises, and it is clear voter anger over it has built up," said Darry Sragow, who teaches political science at USC and helped oversee the poll.
This year, the budget was a record 100 days late.
Edgar Duran of Fontana is tired of the status quo. "Those guys can never agree on anything in Sacramento," said the 49-year-old, who is unemployed and registered "decline to state." "I am tired of watching them play games and waiting to see who makes the first move. Getting to two-thirds never happens."
Analysts say voters are particularly attracted to the punitive nature of the measure. They want lawmakers to lose their pay for not getting the job done.
But Pitney questions if voters are missing the fine print. Democrats could avoid the pay sanctions in Proposition 25 by simply moving a sham plan to the governor's desk destined for a veto, he said. While the two-thirds vote requirement would remain in place for broad-based tax hikes, the measure would still make it easier for Democrats to pass a budget loaded with billions of dollars in "fees" that can be approved by a simple majority.
"There may be less to these provisions than meets the eye," Pitney said.