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Most Special Election Ballot Measures in Trouble

by Indy, published

While most of California is starting to enjoy warmer spring weather these days, chill winds, metaphorically speaking, continue to blow through Sacramento.

Those winds -- the sour, disenchanted sentiments of many Golden State voters -- appear to be signaling that the May 19 ballot initiatives that were brokered during the recent negotiations to close the yawning multibillion-dollar deficit in the state's 2009-10 budget are in serious trouble.

According to a Public Policy Institute of California poll released late last week, many Californians gave low to failing grades to both members of the state Legislature and to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"Californians are clear that the budget situation is serious, but most disapprove of the leadership in Sacramento-the people who are providing the solutions," says PPIC President Mark Baldassare. "These leaders have their work cut out for them if they want to persuade voters that the ballot measures are necessary to address the problem."

According to the PPIC survey, the same Californians aren't big on the special election Propositions 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E. They do seem to like Prop. 1F and that's because the measure, if approved, would block pay increases to state elected officials in years of budget deficit. The PPIC poll showed that 81 percent supported Prop. 1F, while 13 percent said they'd vote against it and 6 percent said they were undecided.

As to the rest of the measures, well, the results ain't too pretty. Here's the PPIC survey results:

Prop. 1A: About four in 10 support the measure (39% yes, 46% no, 15% undecided) to change the budget process by increasing the state "rainy day" fund. Less than half say the measure would be very (7%) or somewhat (38%) effective in helping California avoid future state budget deficits.

Prop. 1B: They are divided (44% yes, 41% no, 15% undecided) on the initiative that would require future supplemental payments to local school districts and community colleges to address recent budget cuts. There is a sharp partisan split on this measure, with Democrats far more likely to favor it (59%) and Republicans far more likely to be opposed (60%). Independent voters are more likely to vote for it (46% yes, 38% no). There are regional differences, with just over half of likely voters in the San Francisco Bay Area (52%) supporting the measure and about four in 10 doing so in other areas (41% Los Angeles; 40% in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties; 39% Central Valley).

Prop. 1C: Half oppose (37% yes, 50% no, 11% undecided) the measure to modernize the lottery and allow for $5 billion in borrowing from future lottery profits to help balance next year's state budget. Less than half support the initiative across party lines (45% Democrats, 37% independents, 29% Republicans) and regions (42% Los Angeles; 40% Bay Area; 33% Central Valley; 32% Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties).

Prop. 1D: Nearly half support (48% yes, 36% no, 16% undecided) the proposition to temporarily transfer funds from early childhood education to help balance the state budget. Likely voters are split along partisan lines, with nearly twice as many Democrats as Republicans in favor (60% Democrats, 48% independents, 34% Republicans). Regionally, support is highest (52%) in the Bay Area (48% Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties; 47% Central Valley; 45% Los Angeles).

Prop. 1E: Nearly half favor (47% yes, 37% no, 16% undecided) the measure to transfer money from mental health services to the general fund to help balance the state budget. Democrats (54%) and independents (46%) are more likely than Republicans (39%) to vote yes. Regionally, support for the measure is highest (51%) in Los Angeles (49% Central Valley; 45% San Francisco Bay Area, and Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties).

If Democrats hadn't agreed to place these measures on this special ballot, the minority Republicans would likely still be holding out and we would still be without a state budget.

If you get the strange political math that is Sacramento, you get why the voters have been saddled with a bunch of bad choices in the form of these initiatives.

Nevertheless, the poll results makes it clear that many Golden State residents are pretty steamed.

Who can blame them, too?

Sacramento is the defacto epicenter for entrenched partisan warfare. If there was ever any doubt about that, this year's extended budget stalemate is "Exhibit A."

The hope -- the prayer -- for even a small bit of cooperative bipartisanship went out the door almost from the get-go.

Instead of standing up and making the hard choices, some state lawmakers -- not all -- learn early that it's easier to punt and let the voters decide directly.

That way when someone asks why the lottery was messed up or why funding for mental health services and early childhood education was gutted or delayed, the pols can lay blame squarely at the feet of the voters and say, 'Well, they just didn't go for it this time.'

To those high school civics students or college freshmen out there, you may be wondering whether this is all standard operating procedure for our state government. The answer is no -- at least it shouldn't be.

What's really messed up about this special election is that these initiatives were the underpinnings of a complex the budget deal. If they're not approved by the voters like the PPIC poll suggests in some cases, what exactly happens to the deal? What happens to those programs that are on the hook?

The mind just reels. It's governing by crap-shoot.

Jeff Mitchell is a longtime California journalist and political observer.

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