A new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California shows 46% of likely voters backing the governor’s proposed five-year extension on some taxes, a drop from 53% two months ago. The treasurer’s office says delaying a vote on extensions to November could force the state to

By Anthony York, Los Angeles Times
March 24, 2011

Reporting from Sacramento—

Public support for Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to solve the budget crisis with a June election is eroding as other officials warn that delaying such a move until late fall, as the governor is considering, could trigger a cash crisis and a fresh round of state-issued IOUs.

A new survey from the independent Public Policy Institute of California shows that 46% of likely California voters back Brown’s call for a five-year extension on some sales, income and vehicle taxes to help balance the state’s books. Just two months ago, 53% of voters surveyed by PPIC said they would approve of the taxes.

The public appetite for a special election also seems to be on the wane. Fifty-one percent of respondents said they wanted one; in January, two-thirds said they welcomed an opportunity to vote on Brown’s proposal. The governor promised voters during his campaign last year that they could sign off on any tax hikes.

The survey suggests that even if Brown manages to hold a special election, selling the taxes to the public will not be easy. Ballot measures with less than 50% support before a campaign begins typically fail.

“While many Californians still favor the approach the governor proposed in January, his plan to seek a budget solution through a June ballot has become a more difficult task to achieve,” said PPIC President Mark Baldassare.

The fading public interest could further complicate Brown’s efforts to persuade the Legislature to place his tax measure on the ballot in June. That requires a two-thirds majority in each house, meaning at least four Republicans would have to say yes. So far, no GOP lawmakers have provided support.

In recent days, the governor has been exploring ways to take the tax question to Californians without Republican agreement. He is mulling a citizen initiative in November that would not require lawmakers’ involvement, or a legal loophole that some lawyers say would allow the Legislature to place the issue on the ballot without Republicans.

Either scenario would create additional political and legal hurdles for a tax proposal that the PPIC survey suggests already faces an uphill climb.

Brown acknowledged as much Wednesday. “Whichever way I look, I see bears in the forest,” he told reporters.

The state treasurer’s office added another danger Wednesday. Pushing back resolution of the budget until November, said spokesman Tom Dresslar, could leave the state unable to obtain the short-term loans from Wall Street that typically sustain the treasury until tax receipts arrive in the spring.

Officials could find themselves short of the cash needed to pay the state’s bills.

“You would be staring IOUs in the face,” Dresslar said.

Without a budget in place, finance officials could be unable to sell bonds that pay for the building and repair of roads, bridges and other public works. That could “threaten the shutdown of hundreds of infrastructure projects,” Dresslar said.

Still, the governor favors a November ballot measure if talks with GOP lawmakers break down, according to administration officials, who asked not to be named because they are not authorized to address the issue publicly. Negotiations continued Wednesday, and Brown said he still hoped a compromise could be struck.

“I continue to seek a bipartisan solution,” Brown said. “I’ve had some positive and friendly conversations, but there is not as yet a clear delineation as to what will seal the deal.”

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