Californians distrust state government

Californians distrust state government

Waste land filmNine out of 10 Californians believe state government wastes their tax dollars. Two-thirds believe state government is run for the benefit of a few special interests and state officials cannot be trusted to do the right thing.

Those results from a Public Policy Institute of California survey are similar to the dissatisfaction with and distrust of state government that Californians expressed 10 years ago. The reason for that disaffection and what should be done about it was the focus of the Jan. 22 meeting of the state watchdog agency the Little Hoover Commission.

The findings in the survey of 1,704 adults conducted from Nov. 10-17 (with a sampling error of 3.7 percent):

  • “Do you think the people in state government waste a lot of the money we pay in taxes, waste some of it, or don’t waste very much of it?” 54 percent – waste a lot, 35 percent – waste some of it, 8 percent – don’t waste very much of it. Seventy-eight percent of Republicans, 60 percent of independents and 46 percent of Democrats believe state government wastes a lot.
  • “Would you say the state government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves, or that it is run for the benefit of all of the people?” 67 percent – run by a few big interests, 28 percent – run for the benefit of all of the people.
  • “How much of the time do you think you can trust the state government in Sacramento to do what is right?” 61 percent – only some of the time, 25 percent – most of the time, 7 percent – just about always, 5 percent – none of the time.

The results were similar for all three questions across regional and demographic groups and similar to a survey conducted a decade ago. But they are slightly better than an even worse skepticism of state government in an October 2010 survey.

Federal and state governments

State officials can take minor consolation that Californians are even more skeptical about the federal government. On the other hand, Californians are less distrustful of local government, particularly in the area of wasting tax dollars, according to a May 2011 PPIC survey.

“In summary, negative perceptions about the effectiveness, responsiveness and efficiency of state government are pretty consistent over time and widely held in the public today,” PPIC President/CEO Mark Baldassare told the commission. He listed four implications of the results:

  • “Californians will continue to value the citizens’ initiative process as they seek to have a say in the major decisions made by their state government.
  • “Many Californians will be skeptical about the need for higher taxes and more state revenues, given their feelings about waste.
  • “Proposals to move authority and control to the local level from the state level are the kinds of proposals that will resonate with Californians today.
  • “Last but not least, civic disengagement will continue to be a problem. The kind of civic disengagement that we saw in the record low turnout in last year’s election. And we may not have seen the lowest of low turnouts yet, given the disengagement Californians feel from state government today.”

Only 30.9 percent of California adults voted in the Nov. 2014 general election and just 18.4 percent in the June primary, according to Baldassare, who said in his blog: “Millions of Californians who could register to vote did not, and millions of Californians who could vote opted out. These numbers clearly point to a California public that is disconnected from their state government today.”


But Baldassare, perhaps anticipating the PPIC survey released this week showing increased optimism that the state is heading in the right direction, closed his remarks on a more hopeful note.

“In the wake of a growing improvement in our economy and fiscal situation, which has led to higher approval ratings of the governor and Legislature than we’ve seen for several years, and also at a time when we’ve just gone through a series of major legislative and fiscal reforms that the voters have approved in recent elections, the public is signaling their support for those reforms as well as efforts to move some activities from the state to the local level through both the local control of school funding and our corrections realignment,” he said.

Asked to explain the reasons for residents’ disconnection with government, Baldassare said part of it is a general skepticism of all institutions, particularly by independent voters. He added it’s also due to Californians’ unsatisfactory experiences dealing with state government. “They do have real experiences which confirm these broadly held beliefs,” he said. “That’s where you have control.”

The question of what the state can do to win the confidence of residents became the focus of the rest of the 2½-hour hearing.

“We should focus on the things which state government can directly affect,” said Commissioner David Beier. “To me that’s the building of trust through the delivery of governmental services. One of my business school colleagues said, ‘Building trust is a question of two things: intention and competence.’ I don’t think anybody has any question about the intention of state officials to deliver high quality services and positive outcomes.

“The question is one of competence. And it’s not a question of the qualification to deliver high quality goods and services. There are better, smarter ways to deliver service. And if we can identify the top agencies and the frequency of interaction with citizens, I think we can affect at least that component of government trust.”

DangerfieldNo respect

A big part of the problem is that the message Californians receive from state government, whether via the Internet or waiting in line at the DMV, is that state officials don’t respect them, according to Cyd Harrell, a user experience expert with Code for America, which specializes in government technology.

“Design sounds like icing on the cake or making things pretty,” she said. “But at the core, design is creating an effect on purpose. People compare the best the private sector has to offer in the same space, the five-inch screen, where it gets Facebook, Amazon or an online game. When the government experience doesn’t live up to the level of experience of the other institutions they interact with, there’s an assumption that the effect is being created on purpose.

“That’s part of where that distrust in government comes from. There’s an assumption that if I have difficulty reading it or difficulty filling out a form or it doesn’t speak in a language that I easily understand, then that’s an effect the government intends, or at least is comfortable creating as part of the design.

“In the private sector, we have companies competing to offer people the best experience for their money. Government is different, naturally. If I don’t like the experience of interacting with the government when registering my car or seeing if I’m eligible for benefits, I can’t exactly take my business elsewhere. So in some ways that can be seen as a free pass [for government officials]: ‘Don’t worry about it, where else can they go?’

“But I truly think there’s a moral imperative. Government needs to serve all of the people. It needs to offer them experiences that respect their time and dignity and their abilities, whatever those may be.”

Currently, few government agencies practice what Harrell calls human-centered design. But she said it’s not that expensive to implement. It just takes commitment from top government officials to want to do it.So the critical thing, in my opinion, is a mind shift,” she said.

Worst enemy

Other experts at the meeting agreed that government is often its own worst enemy when it comes to working smarter and better. Bob Stone, a performance adviser for the city of Los Angeles, provided an example of the Los Angeles Fire Department’s procedure for providing two replacement pieces of uniform for each firefighter annually.

“If you were to be awarded two pieces of clothing, most people would go to the Internet, Amazon or Wal-Mart and they would buy it,” said Stone. “What the city does: the firefighter fills out a form, gets a supervisor to approve it, gets a station chief to endorse it. It’s sent to the battalion chief across town, he endorses it, sends it to the procurement office. They gather up all these things and put in an order with the supplier. A big box of supplies comes into the central yard. We pay somebody to unpack the boxes, and these go to Van Nuys and these to San Pedro, send these to West Los Angeles. That’s the way we do things.

“It’s crazy. It was a sensible way to do things in the 1950s. What they are doing, and they are going to start hopefully in the next month, they are going to give the supplier a list of fire department members who have this entitlement. And they are going to tell each of these people, ‘You’re entitled to two pieces of clothing that we’ll pay for. Go to the supplier’s website, they know who you are, identify yourself and order what you want. If you want more than two, you can buy whatever you want, you just have to pay for it. We’ll pay for the first two.’

“And this happened because we told the people that were working there, ‘Don’t do anything crazy on purpose. We do enough things crazy by accident. If you’re doing something dumb, stop it and do something smart.’ So they did this. And I’m hopeful that there are going to be thousands of examples like this.”

The Little Hoover Commission plans to submit its recommendations to the state in a report, probably later this year.


Write a comment
  1. michael
    michael 30 January, 2015, 11:32

    This article is nonsense. If there were that many citizens out there fools like jerry Brown would never be elected because these people would vote to change the situation. I am personally tired of voting against stupid tax and spend measures that keep passing. Does the State respect it citizen’s? No. Why should they? The majority of citizens are either to stupid or just don’t give a damn to change things.

    Reply this comment
    • bob
      bob 30 January, 2015, 17:25

      Exactly. If people really feel this way why did they vote for the Brown One’s tax increases? Why do they keep elected the same politicians have made Colliefornia (as Ahnode calls it) one of the hightest taxed states in the country?

      Reply this comment
  2. Ted the Wet Sprocket-like Africanized Swarm
    Ted the Wet Sprocket-like Africanized Swarm 30 January, 2015, 12:49

    I trust state gov
    I just dont blindly trust people
    and people populate all organizations private and public

    Reply this comment
    • SkippingDog
      SkippingDog 30 January, 2015, 13:10

      Well said, Ted. It’s always a question of individual motive.

      Reply this comment
    • ricky65
      ricky65 1 February, 2015, 09:46

      “I trust state gov…I just dont blindly trust people”…. Huh?
      A true self cancelling phrase if I ever saw one.
      I’d say you make a good Africanized bee for sure.. A total government drone.

      Reply this comment
    NTHEOC 30 January, 2015, 14:00

    What a crock! Just look at who did this survey.

    Reply this comment
  4. Tesla_x
    Tesla_x 30 January, 2015, 14:02

    The people don’t trust the state.

    Big surprise.

    It’s full of follow the money interests from one destructive agenda to the next.

    Frisco and Sacramento are full of agendas made law to “benefit the environment”…but instead have crippled the economy.

    They sided with well financed environmentalist, NGOs, EPA and CARB to increase energy costs on california manufacturers, rewrote california law so nobody could watch them do it, and pushed heavily subsidized renewable power generation.

    They created the SMELT SCAM to strangle the state water supply, so they could crack down on environmentalist targets like Factory Farms and Oil & gas drillers. Some probably thought this was all about fish.

    Why would they do these things?

    Well, years ago the environmental community was somewhat short of the massive amounts of cash needed to fund a full blown agenda, but something significant changed.

    They got access to oodles of foreign money.

    It wasn’t just anyone’s money, either, as this investigative article highlights.

    If this is true, and hostile foreign governments have had a heavy hand in driving NGOs like the NRDC and the sierra club, among others, these could constitute FARA Violations at the very least.

    Political careers could end.

    This investigation bears watching.

    Again, if accurate, much of the push to ‘protect the environment’ could be little more than a well orchestrated game to damage this country for the benefit of Russia and its fossil fuel interests.

    Reply this comment
    • WILD Bill
      WILD Bill 31 January, 2015, 07:51

      So we here in the mom and apple pie USA are getting a taste of our own medicine, eh? The epic meddling of the US State Dept. and CIA via NGO’s in the politics of Russia, China, Brazil, Ukraine, Greece, Armenia, Georgia, etc etc etc is very well documented. You think all those ‘color revolutions’ just happen spontaneously? Really?

      Reply this comment
  5. bob
    bob 30 January, 2015, 17:39

    Well, when people like this are Presidents how can people trust government? Only the most ecotiscal, power hungry and corrupt go into politics…

    Reply this comment
  6. Ted the Wet Sprocket-like Africanized Swarm
    Ted the Wet Sprocket-like Africanized Swarm 30 January, 2015, 19:12


    I don’t have the time to waste to follow your link
    I understand that Mitt “car elevator, bet you 10k” Romney is not running– so we’re cool.

    Reply this comment
    • Dyspeptic
      Dyspeptic 31 January, 2015, 11:57

      Poor Willard. He’s left to spend the rest of his days cavorting in one of his mansions, trapped in the lap of fabulous luxury (he’s worth even more than the Clintons) and flying too and fro in his private fleet of long term lease luxury jets. It must have been a difficult decision for a consistent political loser to make.

      Don’t worry though, cuz Jeb will battle it out with Billary to determine which noxious, dynastic oligarch continues to run the country into the ground while B_tch slapping the middle class like a twenty dollar hooker.

      So chew your lotus leaves and be content with your lot, peasants.

      Reply this comment
      • Ted Steele, CEO
        Ted Steele, CEO 2 February, 2015, 22:10

        LOL Dysphoric!

        Yes– you have to write off your buddy Mitt! The irony! All the money he has can’t buy him even a ride in Air Force One! And to think a black man-community organizer and Senator CAN ! I bet that eats the doomera alive!


        Reply this comment
  7. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 31 January, 2015, 10:48


    Checked his lineage…..

    He is Boo Boo….how could we make such an error?

    Reply this comment
  8. Dyspeptic
    Dyspeptic 31 January, 2015, 11:23

    Baldassare is a fairly typical center left academic so naturally his advice to the commission if full of false hope, platitudinous advice and business as usual foolishness. Besides, The Little Hoover Commission is a pointless dog and pony show. It has no power over those who actually run the state, which is to say government employee union bosses, totalitarian environmentalists, bay area oligarchs, illegal alien activists, and ethnic hustlers.

    Gore Vidal said we get the government we deserve but that is only true for the majority of voters and they are a tiny, gerrymandered minority of the states population.

    Especially in Crazyfornia politicians choose their voters, not the other way around. So in that sense it doesn’t matter what voters do or what survey results say.

    I’m no fan of the disingenuous and slimy academic fraud Jonathan Gruber but he was absolutely correct about his fellow Americans. They are functionally stupid, if not literally so. Don’t think so? Consider this – Oklahoma State Univ. recently conducted a poll in which 80% of respondents favored mandatory warning labels for DNA in food! Is there any doubt that a similar number of Americans would favor banning Dihydrogen Monoxide as a dangerous chemical? I bet most California voters don’t even know who represents them in Sacramento. In fact, I bet they don’t even know Sacramento is the state capitol.

    Most human adults are just too ignorant, gullible, complacent and hopelessly wrongheaded to be useful as voters. It’s the fatal flaw of all democracies.

    Reply this comment
  9. Ronald Stein
    Ronald Stein 1 February, 2015, 06:52

    The current lower fuel prices will camouflage the cap and trade tax starting in January on California fuel only, as NO OTHER STATE will see that tax. The hidden gas tax is another great way to hit the financially challenged with another cost! Lower income folks spend more as a percentage of their income on energy and work in industries that are most impacted by job losses.

    According to the Board of Equalization the 1.24 gallons PER DAY of transportation fuels for each of our 38 million citizens equates to a usage of 47 million gallons of fuel per day. Based on our current fuel usage this “hidden tax” now projected at only 10 cents a gallon will generate almost $5,000,000 dollars a DAY for the government. The projected larger increases in fuel costs resulting from CARB’s cap and trade on our fuels for Californians ONLY will obviously generate even a greater cash cow for Governor Brown.

    AB32 was implemented in 2006 when CA contributed a minuscule 1% to the worlds GHG’s. Now 8 years later CARB has raised billions of dollars for the CA government and we have higher costs for energy and higher costs for every industry that relies on energy and the by-products from oil and we still have that same 1% minuscule contribution to the World’s GHG’s.

    In the past 40 years, California’s population has nearly doubled to its present 38 million, but the air quality has gotten better, not worse.

    The primary things that CARB and AB32 have done, and will continue to do, are to generate millions of dollars of income to the government at the expense of the financially challenged.

    Reply this comment
  10. Guillermo Gorski
    Guillermo Gorski 1 February, 2015, 09:16

    My thoughts and prayers at this moment go out to Kristine Kehoe…

    Reply this comment

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