California Referenda Today

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic-controlled state legislature bet the farm that voters would ignore their own shrunken budgets and vote for more taxes and more spending in today’s election. But voters have another message for the unpopular politicians in Sacramento: Stop spending and get out of our pockets.

Schwarzenegger, who promised to reform California after the brown-out days of former Gov. Gray Davis, instead has allowed the Legislature to spend the once-thriving state into the scofflaw of the union. Business is running for the borders, education is on life-support, roads are shot, and taxes are the highest in the nation.

The state deficit will be $21.3 billion in the coming fiscal year, according to the governor’s estimates. Living in California is living in a state of chaos. Houses are dropping to foreclosure, unemployment is climbing, the Legislature can’t get a budget in on time, and elected officials have gone to the old standby: more taxes.

The bad news for the tax-and-spenders is that five of the six budget-related measures on Tuesday’s ballot are likely dead on arrival, according to most polls. Schwarzenegger’s business associates and the powerful California Teachers Association, along with other groups, have poured more than $27.6 million in to support Propositions 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E and 1F. They have outspent opponents, which include anti-tax groups and some unions, who have spent about $3.8 million.

The closer to today’s election, the less popular the measures become, according to a May poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.

"The voters who are really tuned in are really turned off,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president, CEO, and survey director. “They see the state’s budget situation as a big problem, but so far, they don’t like the solution.”

Proposition 1A would change the California Constitution and would extend tax increases by up to two years, costing the taxpayers an additional $16 billion, according to the state Legislative Analyst. Proposition 1B is another Constitutional amendment that messes with educational funding.

Propositions 1C is a change in the 1984 voter initiative that created the lottery; Proposition 1D revamps yet another voter-approved law that expanded early development programs for children up to 5 years old. Tobacco taxes pay for the program, but Schwarzenegger and the Legislature want to take the money and spend it elsewhere. Proposition 1E would also redirect money from mental health services and divert them to the General Fund. If 1D and 1E pass, the Legislature will take $2.2 billion from the voter-approved programs for use elsewhere.

The bottom line on these five measures is that the governor and his allies want to change the Constitution and change the voters’ decisions on certain funding. In other words, these lawmakers and the governor think they know better than the Constitution and the voters. It is this kind of thinking that got California into the trouble it now faces.

It is also why Proposition 1F, which would stop pay raises for legislators during state deficit years, is the only proposition that shows much promise in Tuesday’s vote. The May 7 PPIC poll showed that measure winning with 73 percent approval.

Instead of looking at the onerous laws and regulations that chase businesses from the state, and the crippling taxes that have choked California citizens’ discretionary funds, the state’s so-called leaders are trying to sell snake oil to the voters.

The governor even tried some scare tactics last week. He said the state will have to sell some of its properties to make ends meet, such as San Quentin Prison, which houses most death-row inmates, the Cow Palace, an exhibition hall in Northern California, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and other properties.

But the voters are on to the quick-sell. California’s citizens have had to sell their homes, their cars, TVs, and other property to stay afloat. So they understand that the state might have to sell some property.

"The majority of voters just doesn’t believe what is being sold to them,” according to Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo.

The governor’s approval ratings are in the low 30s, according to recent polls, and only 14 percent of residents approve of legislators’ work.

California is so down in the dirt, state leaders are begging the Federal Reserve to back California as she flails in red ink. And a group of opportunists are calling for a state Constitutional Convention (the last began in 1878). Now is the time to press for an overhaul of the Constitution because California is the laughingstock of the country, said Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council.

“We believe California’s system of government is fundamentally broken. Our prisons overflow, our water system teeters on collapse . . . and we have no recourse in the system to right these wrongs,” the Bay Area Council, a group of business leaders, says on its Website. “Drastic times call for drastic measures.”

What is one of the proposed “drastic measures?” Dropping the two-thirds requirement to pass a budget. One other thing: Perhaps dropping the two-thirds vote requirement for raising taxes.

Exorbitant personal and business taxes are part of the problem. Lower thresholds for raising taxes are not the answer. Businesses outsource jobs to other states and countries to avoid the taxes the cripple them.

Voters want the state to balance its budget by spending cuts, according to a Field Poll released April 30. And forget about taxes.

If the polls are accurate, Propositions 1A-1E will fail. That means the state’s leaders may actually have to lead instead of trying to sell elixirs to the public on behalf of special interests and desperate politicians who want more time in the statehouse.