Jerry Brown's plan to balance the state budget is wonkishly complex and exhibits a certain intellectual elegance.
It would, he says, prioritize the state's limited resources on the highest-priority programs and services, realign state and local government responsibilities, and temporarily increase some taxes to cope with effects of recession.
Obviously, Brown faces a stiff challenge in the Legislature, whose Republicans oppose the added taxes and whose Democrats are skittish about deep, and avowedly permanent, cuts in spending on social services and health care for the poor, aged and disabled.
But even were he successful in the Capitol, he would still have to persuade voters to approve the taxes. And that would mean overcoming not only their reluctance to pay more taxes – about $250 per year more for every Californian, on average – but the ignorance factor.
Although the state's budget crisis has dominated political media coverage for years and countless millions of words have been written and spoken about its causes and effects, the sad truth – as a recent Public Policy Institute of California poll demonstrates – is that voters are mostly ignorant about how taxes are collected and spent.
"Most Californians' views about the budget are not based on an understanding of where the money comes from and where it goes," PPIC said of its poll results.
Although most voters profess to have substantial knowledge of state and local government finances, just 16 percent of them could identify K-12 education as the largest single area of state spending. Nearly half, meanwhile, declared prisons as the biggest chunk of spending even though it's actually No. 4.
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