05/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Tricking Voters, Hurting Kids

On the ballot for the May 19th California Special Election are two measures, Props. 1D & 1E, that impact our respective communities (children's services and mental health) and have two appalling things in common.

First, both measures take money out of specific programs that were approved by voters to help vulnerable and underrepresented populations - children and people with mental illness. They direct that money instead to the state General Fund, where the Legislature and the Governor can spend the money as they please.

These cuts could be devastating to individuals served by these programs. And passage of either measure would set a terrible precedent for future raids on these funds.

But what's worse is that both measures are like wolves in sheep's clothing. The Legislature wrote Props. 1D & 1E to make them sound like they protect and expand services, even though they really cut programs.

Maybe that seems a bold claim, but you can judge for yourself.

Watch these person-on-the-street videos to see how voters react to the ballot language initially, and then seconds later when they learn what the measures actually do.

How did Prop. 1D & 1E wind up with such confusing ballot descriptions? The Legislature exempted itself from the laws that normally require neutral, fair analysis of ballot measures. Then they wrote language that appears on the ballot to make the measures sound great.
Yes, we need to balance the budget, but we should do it transparently and responsibly and let voters make an informed decision.

The fact is that Props. 1D & 1E were put on the ballot as part of the "budget deal" that was cut in February. Neither measure would do much to balance the budget, but Republican legislators insisted on these measures as the price of their support for new taxes in the budget.

Not everyone suffers in the budget. The "deal" gave major corporations a pass. Chevron is one of the largest funders of the "yes on everything" campaign being run by Gov. Schwarzenegger, and many more household names have given $50,000 to $100,000 or more. These corporate interests either got direct breaks in the budget or avoided paying their fair share.

California's most vulnerable citizens were not so fortunate. Cutting $268 million per year from children's services and $230 million per year from mental health care - as these measures would do - will devastate those successful programs. In each case, we will see higher state and local government costs after these early interventions are cut off.

This coming weekend California Democrats are meeting in Sacramento. They need to recognize that Props. 1D & 1E are deceptive and harmful. The California Republican Party has already voted to oppose them, and the Democrats should do the same.
Let's do what's necessary to fix California's budget, but not by trying to fool voters and not by harming children and people with mental illness.