There is a series of ballot measures regarding the fate of California’s financial situation that will face the electorate on Tuesday. The fact that the legislature punted these decisions to the voters seems a cowardly way to ‘represent’ the public they so much wanted to work for while breathlessly campaigning for office. Now instead of cool and collected heads in Sacramento making tough educated decisions about the fate of the California economy, it will be left up to the average voter. Considering that the average voter started the fiscal crisis three decades ago with Howard Jarvis and the ‘anti-tax’ crowd one has to wonder if this is not more of the same about to happen.
Nonetheless it is a great political story that has legs, and one that the whole nation is watching.
Advocates on both sides of Tuesday’s ballot measures are making their last-minute pitches this weekend to sway voters to their view of the election – as the only way to save California from financial ruin or an endorsement of reckless government policy.
Five of the six measures that voters will face, backed by the governor and Democratic lawmakers, aim to close the state’s massive budget deficit. They do it through a complex and controversial arrangement of new taxes, borrowing and reallocation of state funds.
While no one is pleased about the financial maneuvering, and polls show little interest not only in the ballot measures but the election as a whole, disagreement arises over whether or not there’s a better way to cure the state’s ailments.
Proponents, who have significantly outspent their counterparts, say this is the best approach and portray defeat of the measures as crushing for schools, local governments and social services.
“I think it’s hard for the general public to understand just how horrible the situation is,” said former Santa Cruz Assemblyman John Laird, who, until he was termed out last year, presided over budget negotiations in the Capitol. “There are just no good options.”
California’s finances have been hit hard by the weak economy. The state gets half its general revenues from income taxes, which like other revenues have dropped dramatically this year. Even with the Legislatures’s massive spending cuts this winter, a budget shortfall looms.
The Governor’s Office pegs the state deficit in the coming fiscal year at $15.4 billion. That’s if the measures pass. If they don’t pass, the deficit swells to $21.3 billion, according to the governor’s estimates.
Supporters of the measures, which include most Democratic leaders and unions such as the California Teachers Association, have spent more than $20 million to convince voters that this is the right way to trim the deficit.
Among the top contributors to the yes campaign, according to state filings, are Santa Cruz businessman and Netflix founder Reed Hastings, who gave $251,000. The donor list also includes sports teams like the San Francisco Giants and San Jose Sharks, the liquor industry and a handful of motion picture companies.
The opponents of Tuesday’s measures, who have raised only a fraction of their rivals, include an even more diverse slate of interests, from progressives to conservatives, all who have found something wrong with the election package.
Most of the concerns stem from Proposition 1A, the centerpiece of the ballot effort. The measure calls for an extension of the tax increases approved by the Legislature earlier this year – the sales tax, vehicle licensing fee and income tax – as well as a cap on total state spending, with the surplus set aside in a new “rainy day” fund.
The League of Women Voters of Santa Cruz County, alongside unions like the California State Council of Service Employees International Union, don’t like Proposition 1A’s check on spending. They say it could limit money needed for schools and health care.
“To lock in rigid restrictions prevents the governor and the Legislature from having the flexibility to respond to state and local needs,” said Jan Karwin, a board member for the League of Women Voters.