One way to interpret findings in the new Public Policy Institute of California poll (PPIC) is to conclude that poll respondents want to spend more on on-going or new programs while concerned that the money won’t be there in the future for such spending. How can elected officials follow these directions?

The poll results are partly due to the limitations offered to the questions asked in which respondents were given only certain choices. But consider those responses.

Those polled thought that high or very high priority be given to the ideas of universal health care (60%), free community college tuition (56%) and universal pre-school (48%). All of these would constitute new or extended programs requiring on-going revenue.

Adults surveyed were all for using surplus budget funds to increase education and health and human service spending (57%) over using the surplus for one-time uses such as paying down debt (21%) or using the funds for one-time payments for water, transportation or infrastructure needs (16%).

On the other hand, those polled expressed concerns for the future economy. Less than half (46%) of the respondents believe California will have good financial circumstances in the year ahead.

So where will the money come from to increase spending on new programs or boost spending on current programs like education and welfare?

Those polled picked jobs and the economy as the top issue facing the state (17%) while they said jobs and the economy should be the number one priority (39%) for government. But they also declared that government regulation of business was important to protect the public interest (58%) as opposed to regulation doing more harm than good (35%). This is a very broad question with no room for nuance, but the idea of regulating business to an extent it could hinder job creation is counter to the notion that jobs and the economy are the most important issue and will contribute to the funding necessary to increase government spending.

In the same vein, another question asked if environmental regulation cost too many jobs and hurt the economy or if those regulations were worth the cost. Respondents lined up behind the notion that it was worth the cost (59%) rather than jobs and the economy would be hurt (33%).

One other question was asked relative to where the money might come from to fund spending plans the respondents approved. They were asked if the state and local tax system needed major or minor changes, if any. Adults surveyed said major changes we’re needed (49%) as opposed to minor changes (27%) or no changes (19%). But the question was vague on what kind of changes.

What were the respondents thinking when they decided the tax system needed major changes? Less taxes; more taxes; which taxes needed change? We have no idea.

The poll may give a sense of where Californians are on certain issues but without fleshing out the ideas it is impossible for officials to use this information to set a course for government priorities.