If the polls are right, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is about to lay the biggest ballot-box egg of his political career, even more disastrous than his 2005 Year of Reform, when he tried but failed to curtail government growth and mend the polarized Legislature by enacting new spending and election laws.
Propositions 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D and 1E could all fail Tuesday. Only the mild-mannered Proposition 1F, which would freeze salaries of future legislators if the state was running a deficit, is expected to pass resoundingly.
Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California, says the bipartisan measures are “a very complicated package,” and voters “have low regard for the governor and Legislature” that dreamed them up. Californians are disgusted by how much time Schwarzenegger and Democratic leaders, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, wasted before adopting the state budget — months past the legal deadline.
It’s hard to imagine a worse time for the package. California has high unemployment and foreclosure rates, just as lawmakers are seeking tax hikes and service cuts. Recently, Speaker Bass, a political neophyte who has stumbled repeatedly during the fiscal meltdown, backed a pay raise for 120-plus employees who work for her and other politicians in the state Assembly. A wide outcry has forced her to rescind the raises.
Then Schwarzenegger, meeting in Culver City with local politicians May 11, warned that, if voters reject the new taxes, the borrowing against lottery income, and the raiding of special funds for children and the mentally ill, California will face a $21 billion real-time deficit — but that even passage of the measures will mean an instant $15 billion deficit.
Ben Tulchin of Tulchin Research, polling on behalf of No on 1D and No on 1E, which would raid money set aside for preschoolers and the mentally ill and use it to reduce the fiscal crisis, says that in focus groups and statewide polling, “Once voters realize what D and E are really about — which is robbing Peter to pay Paul — they get really pissed.”
That’s been verified by the nonpartisan Field Poll. In early March, Bass, Steinberg and Schwarzenegger had a decent chance on some of the measures. A newer Field Poll shows that earlier hope foundering. “Voters want to … be for something,” Tulchin says. The fact that they can’t get behind virtually anything except the modest pay-cut idea is telling.
Paul Goodwin, of Goodwin Simon Victoria Research, says Angelenos are in step with statewide sentiment, harboring three distinct feelings: confusion, frustration and pessimism. Goodwin even has a new catch phrase for what awaits voters May 19: “It’s paralyzing-confusing.”
Conservatives are generally against all but the legislative pay cut, while, “As a liberal or progressive or moderate, it’s not clear what to do.”
The measures are creating unusual friends and foes. Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan is urging a no vote on the $16 billion Prop. 1A tax hike, speaking for Californians Against New Taxes, while Riordan’s friend Joel Fox, president of the Small Business Action Committee, is for Prop. 1A. Many chambers of commerce support 1A through 1F, but the Republican Party leadership opposes all of them — including 1D, 1E and 1F, originally proposed by Sacramento Republicans.
On the liberal side, California Democratic Party delegates couldn’t drum up enough votes to endorse the core measure, the two-year tax hike and rainy-day fund of Prop. 1A. Meanwhile, progressive groups such as the Courage Campaign are opposing not only Prop. 1A, but also Props. 1C, 1D, 1E and 1F.
Sitting in the wings watching all this is an old hand at voter-outrage movements, Ted Costa, who led the signature drive to recall Gov. Gray Davis. Costa is working on a radical 2010 initiative to “dissolve” the Legislature if it again fails to pass a balanced budget by its legal deadline, which is June 30. The previous year’s budget would guide spending while the Legislature is “reconstituted” by a new election in which incumbents would be banned.
“These ballot measures do nothing but kick the can down the street,” Costa told L.A. Weekly. He’s not convinced the measures will fail, because “we don’t know who comes out to vote.” But he sees either outcome as untenable. “We tried changing the governor, and things are even worse now. We think if we can dissolve the Legislature — basically conduct a mass recall — we can get back control of the government.”