SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 03: Jerry Brown delivers remarks after he was sworn in as the 39th governor of California by California on January 3, 2011 in Sacramento, California. Jerry Brown will begin his third term as California's governor 28 years after serving his last term. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Media reports on a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California have interpreted the survey results as a sign of public backing for Gov. Jerry Brown and his budget plan. This positive spin is based on results that show majorities supporting the idea of a special election and of his overall budget plan. But read a little deeper into the poll, and what you see is that the new governor and his plan are in considerable trouble.
Among the problematic findings: Brown, who won a majority in last November's elections, has a job approval rating under 50 percent. That's a bit surprising, given that he's new in office, but it reveals the depths of both public confusion and cynicism about what's going on in Sacramento. It also means that the governor is not in the strongest position to sell his plan.
And while likely voters express overall support for his plan, that support is hardly overwhelming -- only 54 percent. Most troubling for supporters of Brown's approach is this: despite that overall support for Brown, the individual pieces of Brown's plan are unpopular. Majorities oppose spending cuts to higher education and health and human services, which are part of Brown's plans. And less than 40 percent support increases in the three kinds of taxes -- income, sales and vehicle fees -- for which Brown is proposing to extend 2009 increases.
The main problem here is not Brown's plan but a California electorate that wants something for nothing -- public services without the taxes to pay for it. But Brown is also suffering from a decision he made during his gubernatorial campaign: he didn't get specific about policy and avoided talk of real government reform.
By declining to take on tough issues, he probably made the safe political decision. But he also failed to seek -- and thus achieve -- a mandate for the kind of tough, systemic reform the state needs. So he's now a governor without a mandate -- and that has left him in a strikingly weak position for a new governor.