The big news in this week’s Field Poll was that 40 percent of California Republicans favor a mix of spending cuts and tax increases to erase the state’s $26 billion shortfall. So far, none of those Republicans seems to be serving in the Legislature, but the results certainly suggest that legislative Republicans can at least vote to place a tax measure on the ballot without fear of being rejected by their base as traitors to the cause.

An even larger group of Republicans — 44 percent — say they support Jerry Brown’s proposal to extend temporary taxes due to expire this year. Fifty-five percent of Republicans oppose the idea. Overall, Brown’s proposal is leading in the poll by a margin of 61 percent to 37 percent, with nearly 7 in 10 Democrats and independents supporting the idea.

The poll suggests that Brown has done a good job engaging Californians in the discussion about the state’s fiscal predicament. Two years ago, when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a bipartisan group of legislative leaders took a series of budget measures to the voters, they were soundly rejected. One big reason was that the public employee unions spent heavily against the slate of measures because the unions did not like the spending limit and rainy day fund that was part of the package. But the voters were leaning that way before the unions nudged them into a landslide.

My own contacts with readers, friends and family at the time suggested that voters did not want to be part of the budget discussion. “Why are they asking us to solve this with another election,” many people asked me. “Why can’t the Legislature just do its job?”

The truth, of course, is that you can’t make significant changes to California’s budget situation without involving the voters. Their approval is required to adjust the way certain tax monies are spent, and they must ratify any constitutional amendments that are part of a budget solution. The problem two years ago was that the governor and legislative leaders reached their deal largely in secret and passed it in the dead of night. They made very little effort to begin a conversation with the voters until it was too late.

In contrast, Brown this year has held several public forums around the state and he is making frequent appearances trying to explain the problem and his idea for a solution. And it looks like people are listening.

Sixty-one percent of the voters queried in the Field Poll said they think there should be a special election.

Daniel Weintraub is editor of the California Health Report at