When California voters head to the polls next month, the future of the state's rapacious public sector will hang in the balance. Voters will be rendering judgment on three proposed tax increases -- Jerry Brown's Proposition 30, increasing sales and income taxes; liberal activist Molly Munger's Proposition 38, a much more sweeping income tax hike than Brown's proposal; and Proposition 39, a de facto $1 billion corporate tax increase. At the same time, they'll also be voting on Proposition 32, a hotly-contested measure that would prohibit unions from spending member dues on politics without workers' consent, as well as keep corporations and unions from being able to contribute directly to candidates. The newest poll results show that neither government reformers nor defenders of the status quo should get too comfortable heading into election day.
Most encouraging is that Munger's Prop 38 (which is a rival initiative of Brown's -- only one can become law) is taking on water. According to the averages at Around the Capitol, it's averaging 42.4% in favor and 45.4% in opposition, with support trending downwards. While any movement against tax increase is a good sign, Prop 38's failure will be cold comfort if Brown's Prop 30 passes -- and right now, with 53.5% support, that's a very real possibility (though some hope can still be derived from California voters' longstanding aversion to approving broad-based tax increases once they're in the voting booth).
The situation with the corporate tax increase, Prop 39, is considerably more distressing. It's currently registering nearly double as many supporters as opponents, a fact that probably owes to unclear ballot language (the text of Prop 39 makes it sound like a highly technical fix to the tax code) and/or a public willingness to approve taxes that most voters believe won't affect them. The initiative does, however, have a high undecided rate (over 15%, again probably owing to voter confusion over the text), which makes it premature to declare its passage inevitable.
The real drama lies with Prop 32, which is the battle royal of this cycle in terms of union efforts to thwart reform (see Andrew Marcum's post from yesterday for a breakdown of the spending going into the 'no' campaign). The initiative looks destined to be an election night nail-biter, currently polling at an almost exact tie (43.2% for, 43.0% against, with 13.6% undecided). The passage or defeat of this measure may well prove to be the decisive factor in determining the future trajectory of California's public sector. If the Golden State can't escape big labor's clutches on November 6, it's unlikely that it will be able to do so at any point in the near future. And by all indications, the vote is going to be as close as the stakes are high. Stay tuned.