California in 2016: A Time For Breakthroughs On Transportation, Energy, And Tax Policies?

Thursday, January 14, 2016
Image credit: 
Micha Klootwijk, Shutterstock

A new year in California brings new promise – and plenty of promises from its elected leaders as to what will transpire in 2016.

Only a few days after we flipped the calendar, lawmakers were discussing what to do with the expected healthy surplus of tax revenue. And, per usual, legislators lined up with a long list of pet causes, some unfinished business from last year: fixing a $1 billion hole in the state’s Med-Cal budget and devising a plan for addressing California’s fraying infrastructure.

As for California Governor Jerry Brown, January brings two big moments: this budget proposal for the new state fiscal year beginning in July and a State of the State Address outlining his priorities. About that speech, to be delivered in Sacramento at 10 a.m. on Jan. 21: it’s the Governor’s way of proving he’s in touch with the main concerns of mainstream California. The question: does Brown have his finger on the pulse?

Consider President Obama’s State of the Union Address from last week: the White House talked about the President’s commitment to addressing gun violence. Meanwhile, national surveys show that national security and the economy – not guns – are foremost on Americans’ minds

What if Governor Brown decided to give a State of the State purely based on what most concerns his constituents? The newest Hoover Golden State Poll provides some light.

Given a slate of 21 topics to decide as “top priorities,” the most popular choices were:

  • Dealing with the state’s water problems (77%),
  • Strengthening the state’s economy (73%),
  • Improving the job situation (61%),
  • And balancing the state’s budget (59%);
  • Three other topics – reducing special interests’ influence on state government, improving roads, bridges and public transportation, plus improving K-12 education – all hovered around 50%.

Those topics of least concern to Californians:

  • Continuing the state’s high-speed rail project (17%),
  • And reforming the state’s prison system (27%);
  • Five other topics – reducing income inequality, making public-employee pensions fiscally sound, strengthening gun laws, dealing with climate change, plus dealing with the state’s energy problems – all failed to muster 40% support.

So as you digest Brown’s address, see if his rhetoric matches this roadmap for what Californians would choose to be addressed in 2016.

And look for a few nuances. For example, should Governor Brown talk about climate change – one if his leading concerns, but not a strong finisher in the Golden State Poll – does he connect it to the drought, which resonates with voters?

Brown could bind together three leading concerns: the state’s job outlook, California’s feast-or-famine economy, and a budget too reliant on fluctuating tax revenue.

Also, pay attention to how the governor finesses the matter of the state economy.  As is its custom, the Golden State Poll asked a battery of questions regarding Californians’ financial wellbeing.

  • In terms of being better of worse-off financially versus a year ago, California is a balancing act: 49% said they’re about the same; 24% apiece were better or worse off.
  • It was the same mixed message of job mobility: 48% expressed some confidence in making a lateral job move within six month; 46% weren’t confident.
  • “Right track/wrong track” also yielded a mixed verdict: 27% said things were better, 38% said a little or a lot worse; 31% opted for status quo.

In this issue of Eureka, we explore the culture of Sacramento's governance and how it may impact two major policy issues in 2016 – transportation infrastructure funding and further action on climate change.

This issue includes:

We hope you enjoy this latest installment of Eureka – and that it gets you thinking about where California stands and if we’re moving in the right direction.