Voters pan Schwarzenegger and his budgetary 'Valley of Doom'
The California governor has backed a package of six budget-reform propositions to save the state from the prospect of $42 billion deficits. But a poll suggests five could fail.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is facing yet another moment of truth.
Having barely squeaked through a last-minute budget deal in February to close a $42 billion deficit, he now faces a May 19 special election with six ballot measures intended to fix the state‚Äôs dysfunctional budget process for good.
‚ÄúNever again do we want to find ourselves wandering around in another $42 billion Valley of Doom,‚ÄĚ Governor Schwarzenegger reportedly told an audience in San Francisco in March. ‚ÄúA ‚Äėyes‚Äô vote [on the ballot measures] puts our great state back on the path to prosperity.‚ÄĚ
But voters will likely reject five of the six measures, according to a California Field Poll released last week. Partly, they're are angry at politicians, and partly they feel they‚Äôve heard the governor‚Äôs argument before. Analysts say the package ignores the reform that is most needed: ending the two-thirds majority required to pass a budget bill, which allows tiny cadres of legislators to hold the process hostage.
The measure promises a spending cap and a rainy-day reserve fund. A second provides new school funding. A third allows the state to borrow against future lottery revenue. A fourth and fifth moves tobacco-tax money and health funds to the state‚Äôs general fund. A sixth prohibits legislators from giving themselves a raise when the budget is not balanced.
Antitax activist Jon Coupal thought much of this had been sorted out in 2004. Proposition 58 was supposed to check state spending. It passed with 71 percent of the vote, prompting Schwarzenegger to tell NBC‚Äôs ‚ÄúMeet the Press‚ÄĚ: This ‚Äúis the first time that our politicians‚Äô credit cards have been torn up and thrown away so they never, ever, can spend more money than the state takes in.‚ÄĚ
Since then, the state‚Äôs deficits have more than doubled. ‚ÄúThe governor‚Äôs credibility has been squandered,‚ÄĚ says Mr. Coupal, head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
This time around, Coupal says: ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve heard this all before.‚ÄĚ
Analysts say voters are confused ‚Äď and that a sturdy axiom of the initiative process holds true that when they feel that way: Measures usually fail.
‚ÄúThese are complexly written, and the voters are confused because the unions and party affiliations they usually rely on are all over the map,‚ÄĚ says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles.
The television and radio ads have started en masse, reminding voters that if they don‚Äôt approve the measures, the state could lose 24,000 firefighters or lose health workers that could help avert future health emergencies like the H1N1 flu.
Voters are exasperated, says Tony Quinn, editor of the California Target Book, a nonpartisan political journal. ‚ÄúVoters simply don‚Äôt believe the politicians in Sacramento,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúThey have their own problems with home foreclosures, 401(k)s, and jobs, and they can‚Äôt believe Sacramento can‚Äôt fix this themselves without having to raise taxes.‚ÄĚ
The Field Poll showed that Proposition 1F ‚Äď which would bar legislative and statewide constitutional officers from receiving pay raises when the state is running a budget deficit ‚Äď is the only one of the six with majority support: 71 percent.
‚ÄúThe special election is a referendum on California government," says Barbara O‚ÄôConnor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University in Sacramento. "Voters are tired of government not working.‚ÄĚ
The apparent success of Prop. 1F is directed more at legislators ‚Äď who have an approval rating of 14 percent ‚Äď than the governor, who has an approval rating of 33 percent, Ms. O'Connor suggests.
‚ÄúThey do not hold the governor responsible,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think it does much damage to Arnold going forward. He still may win.‚ÄĚ
Others hold that the economy is the culprit, handing California a revenue problem it can‚Äôt handle.
‚ÄúThe Terminator is facing the one foe he can‚Äôt overcome: arithmetic,‚ÄĚ says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College. ‚ÄúThis vote will decide whether the rest of his tenure is horrible or just miserable.‚ÄĚ
If the six measures don‚Äôt pass, the state will find itself back where it was in February before its last budget finally got passed, says Mr. Quinn: ‚ÄúThe state will face draconian cuts not more talk about taxes.