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Voters see some good in grim budget

TIMES/USC DORNSIFE POLL

Nearly half feel the process went more smoothly this year, but most say the results were unfair.

July 22, 2011|Evan Halper

SACRAMENTO — The budget approved by Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers last month was largely distasteful to voters, a new poll shows, but many felt the process went more smoothly than in past years, when political paralysis gripped the Capitol and left the state starved for cash.

The element of the spending plan that most troubled Californians was the threat of steep cuts in education. In addition, about half opposed reductions made in healthcare and other services, and more than half viewed the budget as unfair.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, July 23, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 65 words Type of Material: Correction
Voters' views on budget: In a July 22 article in Section A about voters' opinions on the state budget, the percentages were transposed in the section concerning the drop in opposition to collecting sales tax on online purchases once voters were told how much money the state loses because of failure to collect the tax; 49% of voters were opposed and 46% were in favor.

But the poll suggested surprisingly strong support for higher vehicle fees and a new fire levy, both of which are included in the plan. Voters were about evenly divided on paying sales tax when buying from online retailers such as Amazon.com -- one of the budget's most controversial provisions that now appears headed for a statewide referendum.

Voters were enthusiastic, though, about one development in Sacramento. More than 4 in 5 approved of state Controller John Chiang's decision to dock legislators' pay last month for failing, at first, to pass a balanced budget. About two-thirds endorsed the idea that the Legislature should become part time.

The survey, by The Times and USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, polled 1,507 registered California voters July 6-17. It was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Democratic firm, in conjunction with American Viewpoint, a Republican company. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.52 percentage points.

Many of those polled seemed pleased to see a budget in place by the July 1 start of the fiscal year. A measure approved by voters in November allowed Democrats to send the plan to the governor on a simple majority vote, so no support from the minority Republicans was needed.

Nearly half of respondents, 44%, said the budget was done more easily this time. Only 14% said it went less smoothly.

Those answers, given despite the Capitol's continuing bitter partisanship and failed negotiations on higher taxes, show how messy state government has become, said pollster Stan Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.

"Only in the context of California can you imagine coming out of that scenario and describe it as going more smoothly," he said.

But after being told details of the spending plan, 55% of voters said it was unfair to people like them. Among Latinos, who experts say are already especially hard hit by the weak economy, 68% found the budget unfair. All voters expressed concern about the billions of dollars that would be cut from education and other areas if state revenue falls short of expectations; 64% found the possibility unacceptable.

Whites and Latinos differed on the tax increases built into the budget and on the cuts already made in healthcare, welfare, higher education and other services. Most whites said these were acceptable; most Latinos said they were not.

The new requirement that the state force Amazon.com and some other online retailers to begin collecting sales tax from California customers was opposed by 51% of those polled. Forty-five percent supported the measure, which has sparked national debate.

Opposition dropped slightly, for an essentially split verdict of 49% in favor versus 46% against, when voters were informed that the state loses hundreds of millions of dollars a year with Amazon's and others' failure to collect the taxes.

More than 80% of respondents said they do little or no online buying, but even those who do none are almost evenly divided on the new law. Perhaps predictably, support for the measure was weakest among the small group who do all or most of their shopping online. Fewer than one in three of those voters favored the tax collections.

"It just seems like they want to tax everything," said Jonathan Dotson, a 28-year-old Democrat in the Bay Area community of Castro Valley who works in a pathology lab drawing blood. He complained that Sacramento should live within its means.

"Whoever is making decisions is just saying, 'Tax this and make money, tax that and make money.' They are always looking for more ways to make more money instead of just saying: 'This is what we have and let's work with it.' "

Others said there is no reason Amazon should be exempt from the rules that apply to other businesses.

"It's unfair for owners of brick-and-mortar retail stores," said Dorene Horzath, 51, a computer programmer in San Diego who is registered as a Republican. "The Borders right here next to where I live closed today. It bothers me. In order to get books I now have to go online. I can't even go into an establishment anymore."

Voters are more receptive to officials' other efforts to boost revenue. A majority, 53%, found acceptable two new costs embedded in the budget: a $12 annual increase in vehicle registration charges and a $150 yearly fee assessed on homeowners in wildfire-prone areas covered by state firefighters.

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