A Need for Knowledge

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised about voters’ lack of knowledge of where the state gets its money and how that money is spent. Urban legends about the budget abound on both the left and the right. Still, the findings of the Public Policy Institute of California’s (PPIC) new poll were a bit surprising. Nearly half (49 percent) of the Californians surveyed by the PPIC answered that prison spending accounted for the largest share of state spending. Perhaps even more surprising, only 16 percent correctly answered the question with K-12 education. While corrections spending is on the rise and school spending has declined, the state still spends more than four times as much on schools as it does on prisons and corrections.

Californians were almost as confused about where the state’s dollars come from, with slightly more than a quarter correctly answering the personal income tax, which, in fact provides over half of the state’s general purpose revenues.

Only 6 percent of Californians and 8 percent of likely voters correctly answered both questions. Yet, nearly three-quarters of those surveyed believe that the voters should decide major questions of how the state raises and spends its money at the ballot box.

Based on these findings, we’d posit that there’s a significant need for increasing voters’ knowledge of the basics of public finance: How the state raises money, where that money is spent, and the rules that govern budgetary decision-making. That’s a fundamental part of our mission here at the CBP and clearly we’ve got our work cut out for us.

— Jean Ross

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