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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.

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Another is the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, a California-based taxpayers' rights group. Executive Director Kris Vosburgh says the organization is taking a position against only one of the measures, Proposition 1A, because it extends a tax increase from two years to four.

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"Prop. 1A dwarfs all the others in importance," Mr. Vosburgh says. "The rest are merely rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic."

The state's revenue problems are exacerbated by the flight of residents and businesses from California's already-too-high taxes, he says. The state currently ranks sixth in the nation in terms of the share of personal income that goes to taxes, and Proposition 1A would move the state to first place, Vosburgh says.

"We are losing productive people and businesses, which means less revenue for the state," he says. "This will only compound the problem."

Some analysts say Schwarzenegger is shooting himself in the foot by not being more forthcoming with voters about the tax-hike extension.

"The governor has suggested that a vote to extend higher taxes for two additional years is not really a tax increase. Most people would disagree," says political scientist Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. "The governor and legislators may think they're being clever, but such tactics could very well backfire."

Schwarzenegger's more sober role as a salesman will be the thing to watch in the weeks ahead, as this package moves to the top of the governor's priority list, analysts say.

"This will be a very hard sell for voters, because the politicians will be asking voters to have faith in them and that's hard to do these days ... trying believe that legislators won't be the profligate spenders anymore," says Quinn. "Arnold is saying, 'I won't be the bombastic governor anymore,' and I don't know if the voters will buy it."

Voters will have an opportunity to register disapproval of legislators via Proposition 1F, which would bar lawmakers and the governor from receiving pay raises when the state runs a deficit. Some call the measure misleading.

"Proposition 1F naively hopes to prevent budget deficits by withholding raises for legislators and elected state officers if the state budget does not balance. This is just plain silly," writes Pete Stahl, author of a nonpartisan newsletter on state politics, in the proposition's formal "argument against" section. "Our state's structural deficit, if anything, has been caused by their overeagerness to serve too many constituencies, rather than the kind of selfish greed that would make Prop. 1F effective."

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