Most Special Election Ballot Measures in Trouble

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.