(CN) – A majority of Californians believe universal health care and tuition-free community college should be the top funding priorities for incoming state leaders, the Public Policy Institute of California reported Wednesday.
Across all parties and demographic groups, adult respondents in the poll also said adding jobs, building the economy and providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants should be the top priorities for the state.
The San Francisco-based organization asked 1,704 Golden State residents to opine on how state dollars should be allocated for the next budget year, when the state is projected to have a surplus of several billion dollars.
A majority of respondents, 57 percent, said they would prefer state leaders spend the surplus to increase funding for education and health care over large infrastructure projects.
But just 48 percent support prioritizing state funding for universal preschool.
Governor-Elect Gavin Newsom, who secured a comfortable win in the November election, said during his campaign that he would support a statewide universal health care plan, universal preschool and tuition-free community college.
Outgoing Governor Jerry Brown, who championed fiscal restraint, will leave Newsom with an operating surplus of $14.5 billion for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Lawmakers could use the windfall for one-time spending on programs or add it to the $14.8 billion state reserves, according to a Nov. 14 state Legislative Analyst’s Office report.
Only 21 percent of respondents want the state to use the budget surplus to pay down debt and build up a reserve. Even fewer, 16 percent, support one-time spending on large infrastructure projects.
It remains unclear how Newsom, who has a 51 percent approval rating, will shape state funding priorities and allocate surplus money. A spokesperson for Newsom did not respond to a request for comment.
Half of likely voters said in the survey that they want Newsom to “mostly change to different policies” from the ones Brown implemented, especially in light of a divided economy with a 20 percent poverty rate.
Eighty-two percent of Black residents say the state is divided into haves and have nots, and 68 percent of Latinos agree.
“As Gavin Newsom makes plans for his new administration, nearly half of Californians say they want him to take a different policy direction from Governor Brown,” Public Policy Institute president Mark Baldassare said in a statement.
The survey found 39 percent of Californians believe improving jobs and building up the economy is the most important priority for the future. Only 20 percent say protecting the environment is most critical.
“Many [adults] believe that children will be worse off than their parents,” Baldassare said, pointing out the 50 percent of respondents believe children today will be worse off financially than their parents.
The mandate for legislative change will present a challenge for the incoming Democratic majority in the Legislature, which has the overall approval of less than half of residents.
Many representatives will surely clamour for surplus funds for their projects, including two major state projects – a water tunnel project and a state high-speed rail project. Both need a collective $95 billion to complete.
The survey found that only 25 percent of respondents – and even fewer likely voters – support state funding for high-speed rail, which California voters voted to build in 2008.
Only 9 percent of residents said that making housing more affordable is the top issue in the state, the same percentage that believe wildfires are the most important.
A much-hyped statewide rent control measure failed in the Nov. 6 midterm election, the same week the Golden State saw the start of the most deadly wildfire in state history.
A majority of adults, 54 percent, said they are generally optimistic about the direction the state is headed. But 48 percent say they’re concerned President Donald Trump will not make the right decisions for the country’s future.
The Trump administration has locked heads with California leaders over immigration, border wall funding, law enforcement collaboration with federal immigration authorities, a proposed citizenship question on the upcoming U.S. Census, and environmental issues. Not surprisingly, then, the survey found 55 percent of Republicans say they believe immigrants are a “burden” for California.
But 84 percent, including 60 percent of Republicans, say there should be a way for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S to stay here if certain requirements are met.
The Public Policy Institute polled 1,193 adults via cellphone and 511 were interviewed on landlines. Interviews, which were conducted in English or Spanish, took place between November 11–20, 2018.