Your blogger would have called it for "No" at 8:01 p.m., but he was out reporting. It's a special election wipeout. Propositions 1A through 1E -- backed by Governor Schwarzenegger, Democratic legislative leaders and most of the state's elite -- all lost badly. Only 1B appears to be receiving as much as 40 percent support in early returns. The rest are in the mid to upper 30s. (UPDATE MONDAY MORNING: all 5 measures are now well under 40 percent).
What's next? Chaos. Fighting. And a discussion of how exactly a bankrupt state declares bankruptcy.
The five budget measures on the special election ballot tomorrow are almost certainly headed to defeat. And California, whether the measures pass or not, is in deep fiscal trouble.
I'm ready for the election to be over. Now we'll see the fight over what we do now. Catastrophic cuts? Economy-damaging taxes? Or some sort of federal bailout?
In the direct democracy world, you can expect to see lots of action in the state. All kinds of groups, from various points on the political spectrum, are readying ballot initiatives that seek to capitalize on the crisis by imposing major changes. Could we see the end of the two-thirds supermajority requirement for the budget and/or taxes? Could we send harsh new restrictions on immigrants? Could we have a constitutional convention?
Gov. Schwarzenegger said this morning that he's going to release two revised budget proposals on Thursday so that voters understand the consequences of their vote in next Tuesday's special election.
Traditionally, governors release a "May revise" -- a revised version of their January budget -- but Schwarzenegger's announcement, made after a meeting with local officials at a senior center in Culver City, was a bit of a surprise. (Some of his own aides hadn't known this was coming). The governor had previously said he would release a May revise after the election, on May 28. Your blogger was there, along with a surprisingly small number of TV and radio reporters.
Schwarzenegger didn't offer a long explanation, but apparently, he wants to give voters a "Door #1" or "Door #2" approach. One revised proposal would show what Schwarzenegger contends the budget will look like if the special election measures, Props 1A thru 1E, pass next Tuesday. The other would show what he contends the budget will look like if the measures fail. The governor said he wanted to make sure that voters have "a clear understanding" of what their vote will mean.
Please join us this Saturday morning, May 2, in San Diego for what should be a fascinating discussion about the ballot measures on the May 19 special election. The event runs from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the San Diego Hall of Champions. (Sports fans out there would be wise to make it a day of California governance and sports). The event is free, but be sure to reserve yourself a seat by signing up here or here. And you can consider this brunch if you like--there will be food.
The panel is headlined by former Congressman and former state finance director Tom Campbell, who has thought as deeply about the state budget as anyone alive. (He has an interesting discussion on tax reform currently running on his web site). Also on the panel are Chris Reed of the San Diego Union-Tribune, writer of America's Finest Blog; New America senior scholar Mark Paul; and your blogger. The co-sponsors are New America, the Center for Policy Initiatives, and the City Club of San Diego.
Your blogger's expression of support for Props 1D and 1E -- two of the six measures on California's May 19 special election -- was so back-handed that the headline writer on the Internet version of my piece in today's LA Times seemed to think I'm against both propositions.
I'm not. Given the state's budget problems, the repurposing of money from early childhood and mental health programs makes a ton of sense. But the unintended consequences worry me. These two measures effectively take away -- temporarily -- tax money that was raised by voters through two ballot initiatives, Prop 10 and Prop 63. Such fiscal responsibility in ballot initiatives is rare. By making targets of those measures (albeit for the good reason of a budget crisis), lawmakers have eliminated whatever incentive there was fiscal responsibility among initiative sponsors.
The good news; there's an opportunity to fix the problem. State Sen. Denise Ducheny, a San Diego Democrat, and Sen. Roy Ashburn, a Bakersfield Republican, have drafted a constitutional amendment that would require future initiatives to be self-funding -- that is, to provide revenues to cover the costs of whatever programs or mandates they create.
I must admit that my heart skipped a beat while watching the first TV ad (above) in favor of the six measures on the California special election ballot. The ad has no policy content worth commenting upon. Politically, it takes a swipe "politicians," which you don't want to think too hard about it because you might remember that it's the state political leadership who cooked up these propositions. No, this ad is about developing a feeling and targeting a demographic.
Wanna know what's driving Republican politics in California? It's not the Republican governor, or the Republican minority in the legislature. It's the Flash Report, the blog and web site run by Jon Fleischman, an Orange County political operative (and friendly acquaintance of your blogger) who is also an official of the California Republican Party. Flash Report posts often drive news coverage and radio talkers around the state.
If you doubt the Flash Report's power, check out the memo -- at the bottom of this item -- that is being distributed by Gov. Schwarzenegger's team and the campaign committee that supports the measures on the May 19 special election ballot. The memo, titled "Flash Report Myth-Fact," offers a direct refutation of multiple Flash Report posts criticizing the most important measure, Prop 1A, which would establish a new state spending limit and beef up the rainy day fund. The memo also provides a useful back-and-forth (sort of centrist vs. conservative back and forth) on the advantages and disadvantages of Prop 1A.
By Gautam Dutta and CA Assemblymember Ted W. Lieu
This year, California state and local governments will spend close to $10 million on at least three elections we do not need. That makes no sense amidst California’s and our nation’s brutal recession.
Here’s the root of the problem. On March 24, 2009 barely 6 percent of registered voters showed up for a special election to fill a vacancy for California’s 26th Senate District. In an area with almost 1 million residents and 400,000 registered voters, only 23,000 civic-minded citizens decided who would replace former State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas (newly elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors).
How much did this special election cost? A whopping $2.2 million of our tax dollars – nearly $100 per voter – according to the Los Angeles Registrar-Recorder / County Clerk.
Unfortunately, we’re not even close to being finished. Since no candidate won a majority, we must hold a second election that will cost even more money. Because this is a heavily Democratic district, it is certain the Democratic nominee, Assemblymember Curren Price, will win. Yet Mr. Price must wait two months for a second election before he can be sworn in as State Senator.
Far from being “special”, special runoff elections cost millions of tax dollars to administer — at a time when governments have been forced to lay off schoolteachers and workers.
Here's a link to the poll, which shows five of the six measures on the May 19 special election ballot with less than 50 percent support. Here's pollster Mark Baldassare's take on the results in the Sacramento Bee. And here's my upbeat prediction, via Fox & Hounds Daily.
That optimism is based on the fact that opposition to the measures is poorly funded, disorganized and late to the game. The Sacramento Bee, in this news story, suggests the opponents are coming together to fight Prop 1A, the spending limit. But the opposition is forming too late to make much difference on its own. The real problem is that people don't understand much about the measure other than its link to taxes. As Ted Costa, the anti-tax activist who is co-chair of one of the campaigns against 1A, said on a conference call yesterday, "We can beat this with just robocalls." 1A likely loses even without a campaign against it.
Writing in the Sacramento Bee, Meg Whitman, the eBay chief turned GOP gubernatorial contender, comes out against Props 1A (spending limit and rainy day fund), Prop 1B (a boost in the education funding base) and Prop 1C (a plan to modernize the lottery and borrow against future revenue). She supports Props 1D and 1E (which redirect voter-approved moneys for early childhood and mental health programs) and the populist 1F, which would bar legislative pay increases in years with deficits. All six measures were part of last month's budget deal and appear on the May 19 special election ballot.
This is safe politics but something short of leadership. Whitman needs the conservatives who vote in Republican primaries, and they hate the temporary tax extensions that are part of Prop 1A. (If the measure passes, the temporary taxes run for 4 years. If it fails, they run for 2 years). One potential rival, former Congressman Tom Campbell, has bravely backed Prop 1A. Another, insurance commissioner Steve Poizner, has adopted a line similar to Whitman's.