Interpreting the Failure of Prop 1A

california-budgetImmediately after the election, the Governor announced that the “voters had spoken” and that the defeat of Prop 1A “clearly” meant that Californians stood adamantly against any new taxes or fees. He must have been reading the leaves in the bottom of his tea cup in order to come to a favored conclusion, however, because there was no evidence to support his assertion. Quite the opposite, as a poll taken between May 16 and May 20 showed.

The Governor didn’t stop there. Building on his unsubstantiated assertion, he went on to maintain, that he, therefore, had no choice but to propose a budget that would put the wrecking ball to California’s safety net for healthcare, children, the elderly and schools. As shown below, his conclusion as to the meaning of the “No” vote on Prop 1A is not true, and, therefore, these proposed cuts, and a budget with no new revenues, is not the most acceptable answer for California’s voters.

What Would Prop 1A Have Done Again?
Many voters indicated they were confused by Prop 1A and with some good reason. Like every one of the Propositions on the May 19th ballot, Prop 1A was originally constructed to satisfy Republican demands in exchange for a minimal number of “aye” votes on the February budget. As such, Prop 1A would have placed a spending cap on future budget expenditures. Then, in order to placate Democrats who did not agree with the spending cap as drafted, an extension to the new sales tax was added to the Proposition, giving virtually everyone something to hate.

An Interesting Irony
It seems sadly ironic that, just as the rest of the United States is rejecting the right wing’s long stranglehold on our rhetoric, California, the long hold-out, is embracing it. Years ago, Grover Nordquist, one of the right’s mouthpieces, said that his goal was to shrink government down to where it could be drowned in a bathtub. By patiently denigrating government, valorizing private enterprise, establishing inflexible term limits to guarantee an inexperienced legislature, setting up a two-thirds vote requirement to raise a tax, but only a majority to lower one, government in California was set up for the shrinkage.

But California proved stubborn. Support of schools and the safety net continued. Since, by definition, these are jobs only the government can perform, government continued to be an important part of all solutions to poverty, education and healthcare.

Until now. This month, even our moderate Republican Governor, along with a seemingly cowed Democratic majority in both houses, contemplates throwing in the towel and balancing the budget with nothing but cuts, cuts, cuts, thus fulfilling Grover Nordquist’s desire.

But the call for these cuts is predicated on misreading the tea leaves of the defeat of Prop 1A, in an election in which only 23% of registered voters voted (4 million out of 17.1 million, or about 10.5% of Californians).

What Did The Voters (and the Non-Voters) “Mean” by the Defeat of Prop 1A?
The only real information we have about voters’ intentions is a poll conducted between May 16th and May 20th of 603 people who voted in the election and 405 who did not. According to several sections of the poll:

  • 3 out of 4 voters and non-voters simply thought these propositions should never have been put to them for a vote.
  • 7 out of 10 did not like that the Governor and the Legislature keep balancing the budget “on the backs of average Californians” instead of requiring special interests to pay their fair share. Only 20% thought all Californians were being asked to share the pain equally.

How About the “No on 1A” Voters Specifically?
This is the result that puts the lie to the Governor’s interpretation. Of voters who voted “no” on Prop 1A, less than half said the government should rely entirely on spending cuts and not increase taxes.

65% of all voters agreed that shared responsibility should be part of the solution and not simply reliance on spending cuts to balance the budget.

Do “No” Voters on Prop 1A Support Any Taxes?
According to the poll, 62% of “no” voters supported increased taxes on alcohol (75% of “yes” and “no” combined supported this tax), 62% supported increased taxes on tobacco (74% of all voters), 60% supported an oil extraction tax on oil companies drawing oil and gas in California (73% of all voters), 58% supported not allowing corporations buying property to be protected by Prop 13 (63% of all voters), 55% supported not allowing tax credits for companies to go over 50% of what they owe in taxes (59% of all voters).

Sheila Kuehl
Voters Would Support a Balanced Approach
Even so, the budget will have to incorporate deep cuts no matter what the solution. The only question is how much, and whether some of the cuts can be made less deeply because revenue solutions are part of the answer.

Sheila James Kuehl

Sheila James Kuehl was appointed to the California Integrated Waste Management Board on December 1, 2008, after having served eight years in the State Senate and six years in the State Assembly. Senator Kuehl served as chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee from 2000-2006. Her website is

LA Progressive

Published by the LA Progressive on June 5, 2009
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