What Did the “No” Vote on Proposition 1A of 2009 Really Mean?

Critics of the Governor’s proposal to ask voters to approve a five-year extension of current tax rates argue that the voters already settled this issue when they defeated Proposition 1A in May 2009. Therefore, the critics say, there’s no need to go back to the ballot. Proposition 1A would have extended the length of the two-year tax increases approved as part of the February 2009 budget agreement by one or two additional years, depending on the tax. However, Proposition 1A did not present voters with a “clean” up-or-down vote on extending the temporary taxes. Rather, the purpose of Proposition 1A was the imposition of a harsh spending cap that would have had major implications for budgets and policymaking, limiting the state’s ability to address future policy, demographic, and economic challenges. Many voters viewed a permanent straitjacket on state spending to be too large a penalty to pay for a minimal extension of temporary taxes.

Research shows that voters are looking for a balanced approach that moves the state forward. A public opinion survey conducted immediately after the May 2009 special election found that two-thirds of voters voiced support for shared responsibility with some tax increases. A more recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that a majority of Californians support the Governor’s tax plan and “are willing to increase taxes to spare K-12 education, higher education, and health and human services from cuts.”

The defeat of Proposition 1A suggests that the Legislature should present voters with a clean up-or-down choice on the Governor’s tax plan at the proposed June 2011 special election. Linking the tax plan to other potentially controversial measures would only muddy the waters and lead to confusion among voters about what, exactly, they are being asked to vote on.

— Jean Ross and Scott Graves