Two recent public opinion polls probably raised some eyebrows. They raised ours.
In one poll, conducted by the Los Angeles Times and USC's Dornsife College, Californians overwhelmingly favored rolling back the pensions of government workers, not just for newly hired employees, as increasingly is suggested, but also for current employees. That's bold even by our standard. We're heartened by the results, which were so lopsided there's little reason to doubt the message's veracity.
Public employee unions have resisted rolling back benefits, particularly for current employees. Although we find it problematic to reduce benefits agreed to by contract, public sentiment seems overwhelmingly to support such reductions. Seventy percent of respondents supported a cap on pension benefits for current and future employees, and 68 percent supported requiring public workers to contribute more to their retirement funds and for increases in retirement age.
Perhaps this overwhelming sentiment will prod government unions to voluntarily renegotiate contracts for current as well as future employees – or face the wrath of a taxpayer revolt.
Another Times-USC poll showed that a scant majority "agree with Gov. Jerry Brown that tax increases should help close the state budget deficit, and they want to vote on his plan for raising the revenue." But only 52 percent favored tax increases, and then only after the question was couched as a reasonable compromise.
We not only are unimpressed by the bare-majority approval for higher taxes, but agree with California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro's critique questioning the poll's significance.
He pointed out that the survey-takers first advised respondents that the governor and Legislature have cut $14 billion in spending. Then the poll asked whether "you prefer that the deficit reductions come more from spending cuts, more from tax increases, or an equal amount from both tax increases and spending cuts?" Those surveyed also were told almost every government sector except K-12 education already has been cut.
We think the scant 52-percent majority would dissolve if pollsters added a few more facts, such as only about half the cuts made so far actually reduce spending. Those surveyed apparently also weren't told the governor's proposed budget would increase spending 30 percent over the next three years, or that increased taxes result in job losses.
Armed with that information, we think it's less likely a majority would favor tax increases. California voters have rejected tax increases twice in two years.