Thursday, February 19, 2009

Statewide special election may be called this year

Yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle featured this story by John Wildermuth reporting on the coming special election needed to get voter approval on a number of components of the new budget deal passed this morning by the Legislature.

Regardless of when a new budget deal gets passed, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger still is going to need help from California's voters to close the state's $42 billion budget gap, and that help may not be easy to come by.

Although the Legislature spent the weekend in nearly continuous session, trying to find the votes to pass the new fiscal plan, legislators still face the prospect of putting billions of dollars in borrowing, revenue shifts and budget revisions on the ballot in a statewide special election later this year.

"Several key components of the budget agreements need to go back to the voters because they're revisions of ballot measures the voters originally approved," said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance.

A special election vote will be anything but a slam dunk.

The biggest item on the ballot will be a plan that allows the state to borrow $5 billion and repay it with future revenues from the state lottery. When California voters authorized the lottery in 1984, its sole purpose was to bring in extra money for state schools.

The new ballot measure would allow the state to use the lottery "to provide funds for other public purposes" and borrow against future revenues.

But 61 percent of likely voters opposed the lottery borrowing in a poll last month by the Public Policy Institute of California, showing how much work the governor has to do to turn those numbers around.

Other measures expected to be on the ballot for the special election, which doesn't yet have a date, include revisions to 1998's Proposition 10, a measure by movie director Rob Reiner that put a 50-cent-a-pack tax on cigarettes for new children's programs, and 2004's Proposition 63, which taxed the richest Californians to support new mental health programs.

There's also a future cap on state spending, which would set a limit on budget increases and put any additional money into a rainy-day fund for tough financial times. Another measure would tinker with Proposition 98, which sets a minimum funding level for California schools.

The spending cap, a favorite of Republicans, is an especially important part of the puzzle. Most of the new taxes now are slated to last for four or five years. But if the spending cap doesn't pass, they will disappear after two years.

"There's a real danger that all the people who don't like what was done in the budget will get together and fight the ballot measures," said Tony Quinn, a former GOP consultant who is currently co-editor of the nonpartisan California Target Book, which follows state political campaigns. "This could be a real hard sell."

Potential opposition is already forming.

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