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I Love The Trigger Cuts!

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The gnashing of the teeth has begun.

Californians only narrowly support temporary taxes in Gov. Jerry Brown's initiative, a new Field Poll finds. But they overwhelmingly oppose "trigger" cuts to education that would go into effect if the initiative doesn't pass in November.

My goodness! Californians want to protect government services and aren't that excited about taxes to pay for them.

This is not news.

Polling has consistently shown Californians love something-for-nothing. Indeed, all humans love something-for-nothing. Californians are no different.

What's different is that under this state's governing system, Californians are able to embed their something-for-nothing preferences in the law and in the constitution relatively easily. All those something-for-nothing measures -- bonds, tax limitations, spending mandates -- have conspired to create constant budget deficits and make the state ungovernable.

To bemoan the "something for nothing" preference in the latest poll is to miss the point of what Brown's attempting to do with the trigger cuts.

The triggers are a political innovation, designed to harness Californians' "something for nothing" instincts to get them to pay for things. When Brown offers voters a choice of temporary taxes or trigger cuts, he's offering two versions of pain. There's no way out.

The fact that the triggers are already unpopular is not a problem for Brown, who drafted them and supported them. The triggers are supposed to be unpopular. The more unpopular they are, the better for Brown, who would love nothing better than for voters to decide they can't stomach such cuts and vote for his temporary taxes.

The odds are still against Brown's temporary tax initiative passing. Its narrow support -- 54 percent in the poll -- doesn't bode well for the initiative, since support withers as campaigns go on. But the triggers, and their unpopularity, introduce a new factor that may give him a boost. Right now, Californians hate the triggers more than they hate taxes. 

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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