By nearly a 2-to-1 margin, California voters oppose a November initiative that would change the state budget process and give more power to local governments, according to a new Field Poll.
Only 21 percent of likely voters support Proposition 31, compared to 40 percent who oppose the measure to amend the state constitution. The rest 39 percent remain undecided.
Proposition 31 would change a variety of state budget practices, such as mandating a two-year spending plan rather than the one-year document now required. It would give governors more ability to cut state spending in fiscal emergencies and prevent the Legislature from permanently increasing state spending or cutting taxes without finding a new revenue source.
The initiative also allows local governments to propose new ways to meet state requirements and gives them $200 million annually from state coffers to find alternative ways of delivering public services.
Proponents say the measure would help California avoid the budget turbulence of recent years and encourage creative solutions locally. But opponents, which include unions and environmentalists, say the measure could hurt public programs and undermine state protections.
"It's almost 2-to-1 on the 'no' side, and that's pretty ominous," said Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo. "Usually things that start out behind stay behind."
Proposition 31 spokeswoman Megan Range said the initiative suffers from a poor ballot label, which was written by the state attorney general's office.
"Voters understand California is operating under a broken system, and we are confident that voters will look beneath the surface of the ballot language and find the common-sense ballot solutions provided in Prop. 31," she said.
DiCamillo said voters generally tune out initiatives that deal with complicated state processes, as Proposition 31 does. The political arm of California Forward, a bipartisan group of former and current civic leaders, pushed the initiative.
The initiative reached the ballot thanks to $1.1 million from California Forward and $1.5 million from billionaire philanthropist Nicolas Berggruen. But Berggruen hasn't donated since July.
To succeed in California, initiatives generally require hefty spending to educate the public, and that has not occurred. DiCamillo said voters tend to vote against measures they don't understand.
"A 'no' vote doesn't change the status quo, generally speaking," he said.