California's voters get next say in budget battles
They'll consider six ballot measures that address budget reform and a new $8 billion shortfall.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger apparently has taken to heart the adage that begins, "If at first you don't succeed...."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
He is trying again to persuade state voters to embrace his vision for budget reform, via a set of six ballot initiatives that address both a new $8 billion revenue shortfall and the unwieldy annual budgeting process.
The measures, which come before voters May 19, may seal Governor Schwarzenegger's legacy, whether as a reformer who repaired a broken government or as a politician of great bombast but little consequence.
The package includes temporary tax hikes as well as cuts in government spending, a way to borrow against the state's lottery, a temporary shift of funds away from preschoolers and the mentally ill, and a way to clamp the salaries of elected officials during future deficits. So far, he's winning praise for his effort, if not for his suggested solutions.
"This is the best he has done in the past five years as governor and really confronts the state's budget crises," says Tony Quinn, a Sacramento-based political analyst and coauthor of the so-called California Target Book, a nonpartisan guide that tracks state political races. "He is acting the very best as governor in confronting real problems. He is not playing Hollywood anymore. When he goes out and talks about this stuff, he's not being bombastic.... He is talking in much more serious tones."
Schwarzenegger, a Republican, took a drubbing the last time he asked voters to approve his ideas for reforming state government. In November 2005, Californians rejected four ballot initiatives the governor had backed, calling into question whether he could in fact fulfill promises to do a better job leading the state than did ousted Gov. Gary Davis, from whom Schwarzenegger seized the reins two years earlier.
In a speech March 12 before the Commonwealth Club of California, the governor characterized his package of six ballot measures as "the agreement that ends the current budget deficit." He added that it also "changes our approach to budgets in the future."
If Schwarzenegger is unable to persuade voters to pass the measures, says Mr. Quinn, "I am absolutely convinced that the state will go into bankruptcy, like New York did in the 1970s."
It's expected that voters will approve all six initiatives or reject them all, because their provisions are closely linked, say Quinn and others.
Two powerful groups have already come out against them.
One is the League of Women Voters of California, which has long pushed for an overhaul of the budget process. League President Janis Hirohama has called the measures "hurriedly drafted" and said they "will only make our fiscal situation worse."