Thursday, March 26, 2009

California Budget Left to Voters

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from California.

The people of the Golden State will go to the polls for a special election in May to decide a number of important ballot measures.

With projected budget shortfalls - which California is not unfamiliar with already - the State Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have reached a deal to make cuts and raise taxes to correct the budget problems in the midst of a slow economy. Five important pieces of the budget corrections will have to be approved by the voters.

According to a new poll, none of these proposals have a very positive outlook.

Proposition 1A
This measure would cap state spending while extending billions in temporary tax hikes for two years. It has drawn considerable attention from conservative talk radio and even the unions are considering a campaign against the proposition. If the election were today it would fail to pass by a 46%-39% margin.

Proposition 1B
This measure would make up for education cuts in 2009 by increasing funding for education in the future. The powerful teachers’ union supports the proposition - a major reason why it is included in the proposals. Voters are split with 44% supporting and 41% opposed.

Proposition 1C
By far the least popular measure, it would let the state borrow $5 billion against future lottery revenues - the most important part of the budget solution. If it were on the ballot today it would be defeated by a 50%-37% margin.

Propositions 1D and 1E
These are twin measures to loosen restrictions on money that Californians have dedicated solely to children's health and mental health programs under previous initiatives. While they fall short of the necessary 50% threshold at this point, they are both slimly more backed than opposed.

With such lukewarm support to some measures, and outright opposition to others, state leaders are eager to campaign for the proposals.

The dynamics of the special election are volatile, and public opinion could swing dramatically once campaign advertising begins. The poll found more than 10% of likely voters are undecided on most of the ballot measures. Also, voter turnout is likely to be low, and it is unclear what mix of Californians will wind up casting ballots in the oddly timed election.

…Schwarzenegger and Democrats who lead the Legislature have joined forces to raise money for mail and television ads promoting the ballot measures. The Republican governor, state Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) also have pushed the measures in joint meetings with opinion writers at major newspapers in the state.

On Wednesday, Schwarzenegger said failure to pass the measures would be "disastrous" for California.

But many of these politicians are feeling the pressure of a lack of public approval. The California GOP has decided to cut campaign funds from the six Republicans that voted for the budget compromise and three of those Republicans are facing recall threats from angry conservative activists.

And Schwarzenegger and the State Legislature are facing their own unhappiness from constituents.

…the poll raises new doubts about Schwarzenegger's effectiveness as a messenger in the campaign. His popularity matches the record low he set in December 2005, with 33% of likely voters approving of his job performance and 57% disapproving. For the first time, even a majority of Republicans questioned by the Public Policy Institute pollsters give Schwarzenegger negative job ratings.

The Legislature, too, is at a record low, with an 11% job approval rating and 80% disapproval.

If the measures fail to pass the State Legislature and governor will have to rethink their approach to fiscal discipline during the recession.

Tony Quinn, a nonpartisan election analyst who specializes in California politics, said voters seem to be so turned off by Sacramento's dysfunction that they have not focused on the gravity of the budget measures on the May ballot.

If voters reject them, he said, lawmakers will "finally have to do some things that the public notices."

"What about early release of low-risk prisoners? That might not be very popular, but they may be forced to," he said. "What about reducing Highway Patrol hours? Or not having as many cops on the beat?"

For these reasons, state leaders will want to get the budget figured out sooner than later - specifically with these proposals. Their campaigns for these measures must succeed for their own sakes. Otherwise they might face even greater political pressure.

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