The moonbeams reflecting off California Governor Jerry Brown have been shining a little less brightly of late.
A Field Poll released this week shows growing disapproval for Brown's performance as the state's chief executive and shrinking faith in his ability to solve the state perennial budget crisis.
These results come at a time when Brown is making a strong personal appeal for voters to pass a contentious tax increase.
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For the first time during his governorship, the number of people who approve of Brown's job performance (43 percent) is essentially tied with the number of people who disapprove (40 percent). Even though his approval numbers have only dipped by a few points from the start of his term--48 percent approved in March of last year--his disapproval rate has dramatically increased from the 21 percent soon after he took office.
Brown spokesman Gil Duran told the Press-Enterprise that the Governor's flagging popularity is a result of dour budget news. "It's always about cuts," he said. "People are tired of hearing about it."
Brown's ability to sell his tax measure, which would raise marginal rates for those earning over $250,000 per year and temporarily increase the state's sales tax to 7.5 percent for four years, is seen as largely dependent on voters' trust in Brown's image as a veteran politician willing to do whatever is necessary to alleviate the state's financial woes.
"Just suck it up and vote for the tax," Brown urged a crowd of public and private sector officials when speaking at a conference in San Jose last month.
Polling on the tax measure itself has been largely positive. But pollsters have found a significant discrepancy in results based on how they frame the question. The Los Angeles Times reports:
When told of the growing deficit and the governor's plan to plug it with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, 59 percent of respondents said they would support the tax hikes. Just 36 percent said they would vote against the proposal if it is on the ballot this fall as Brown hopes.
However, when voters heard arguments against the plan--namely, the suggestion that Sacramento could waste any new money it received from higher taxes rather than spend it on such services as schools and public safety--only 50 percent said they would vote for it. And 42 percent would oppose it.
While confidence in Brown has gradually shrunk during his tenure in office, he still remains for a plurality of voters the best candidate for the job of fixing the budget mess. When compared to the dismal esteem in which most Californians hold their legislature (only 19 percent approve), twice as many voters said they would side with governor over the legislature in a budget dispute.
This is good news for Brown because a dispute with the legislature is what he's soon to get.
Facing a worse than expected nearly $16 billion budget deficit, Brown is at odds with many Democratic lawmakers. Specifically, the he seeks to slash $2 billion from initiatives like California's welfare-to-work program, financial aid for higher education (at a time when tuition at state colleges and universities are soaring) and child care support for low-income parents.
As Golden State political political guru Dan Walters, explained in his daily video report for the Sacramento Bee, "The Governor hopes that a tight budget will encourage voters to vote for his tax package in November, but the legislature's Democrats are hearing a lot of complaints from people whose services would be cut and rectifying that difference will occupy the legislature over the next week."
The legislature is legally bound to pass a budget by June 15.
"We have the same objective, which is to end the deficit," California State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told CBS Moneywatch. "But to do so in a way that...recognizes that there are people in California who are very vulnerable and who are already living on the edge. And we ought not to do anything that pushes people over the edge."
"The longer these budget travails take, the worse it's getting for Brown," Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo explained to the San Francisco Chronicle. "I think voters will make their judgment come November based on the information they have in November, but I have always thought that part of Brown's ability to get the tax increases enacted...was the extent to which voters trust him and hold government in high regard."
Debate over the budget has essentially been an intra-party issue since California voters passed Prop 25 in 2010, which allowed the legislature to pass the budget with a simple majority vote, effectively excluding the minority GOP from the process.
Check out his video of Brown talking about California's 2012-13 budget: