By Peter Henderson
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - They've banned gay marriage and are poised to blow off a chance to legalize marijuana, but California voters are remaining true to one stereotype -- their commitment to the environment.
A measure to suspend the state's vanguard climate change law is heading for failure, by a margin of 49 percent to 37 percent, because voters see the law doing more economic good than harm, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday showed.
The Golden State's economy is bumping along near the bottom of the nation with unemployment above 12 percent and a state budget more than three months overdue and nearly $20 million in the red.
At the same time it is embarking on an environmental plan from setting alternative energy targets to building a system for industry to trade the right to emit greenhouse gases.
Voters on November 2 must decide whether to put the plan on hold with the measure known as Proposition 19.
"I like cleantech, I like hybrid cars coming out, I like solar panels on roofs, I like aerogel insulation," said business school graduate Matt Fischer, 35, in San Francisco. He admitted concerns about killing some jobs but saw Proposition 19 as a "political ploy" and on balance came down against it.
Some 47 percent in the Reuters/Ipsos poll saw the climate change law as more likely to create green jobs and make California a leader in clean energy versus 38 percent who saw it mostly raising energy prices and increasing regulation.
Respondents also favored Democrat Jerry Brown in the race for governor, by 50 percent to 43 percent for Republican rival Meg Whitman. Brown would back the current climate change law while former eBay Inc CEO Whitman would put it on hold for a year.
The San Francisco Bay Area is awash in companies involved in ventures such as creating green goo from algae to replace gasoline and developing various types of solar power.
But Texas and other rival states are catching up fast. California is still the biggest state for manufacturing, but it also has lost a third of its manufacturing jobs in the last nine years, and state regulations routinely are called some of the least business-friendly in the nation.
"People need jobs. If we can get jobs we can start to take on the other things," said Nat Davis, 49, computer systems administrator who likes the idea of putting the climate change law, known as AB 32, on hold for now.
Proposition 23 would suspend the 2006 law until unemployment dropped to 5.5 percent for four quarters in a row, an event expected to take years.
Statistics back up the idea that California is ahead in the green economy. It won 49 percent of the sector's U.S. venture capital funding in the most recent quarter, and state mandates were the top U.S. driver for renewable power deals known as power purchase agreements, according to Cleantech Group.
The only problem may be that alternative energy is still small. "The whole cleantech industry is still in its infancy, even though people have been talking about it for a while," Fischer said.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Walsh)