And they're off. Again.
The only year since 2001 that California has not had a statewide election was 2007. And that was when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was busy with his rather Rube Goldberg-esque coalition of some business, labor, and health groups trying to pass a version of universal health care. Every other year, including this, has seen the tarnished Golden State holding at least one statewide election.
This May 19th it's another special statewide election, the fourth of the Arnold Era.
What's this one about? The recently, arduously concluded state budget compromise to close a $42 billion gap over 18 months caused by a combination of tax cuts, program expansions, and the economic crisis. I'll tell you what the six initiatives would do in a moment, but first the politics.
In order to get the mix of program cuts, temporary tax hikes, and some borrowing through with just enough Republican votes to pass muster under California's unusual two-thirds vote requirement for a state budget -- something it shares with only two other, small, states -- Schwarzenegger and Democratic and Republican legislative leaders had to get creative.
To deal with conservatives, and to fulfill a longtime Schwarzenegger goal, they created a state spending cap and a rainy day fund, which will fill with revenue during California's revenue boom times and make up much of the difference during California's revenue bust times.
To deal with liberals, they tied the length of the tax hikes to passage of the spending limits. If the spending limits don't pass, the tax hikes are over in two years and still more deep cuts are in store. If they do, the tax hikes get another two years, and the business cycle is probably up again, bringing in revenues.
For the record, here are the six initiatives on California's special election ballot on May 19th, then back to the politics.
Proposition 1A would create a spending cap based on the rate of growth over the past decade. If approved, it would extend the length of the state's temporary tax hikes.
Proposition 1B would change the state's Proposition 98 education funding requirements for supplemental education payments to local districts due to recent budget cuts.
Proposition 1C would allow the state to borrow from future Lottery proceeds.
Proposition 1D would remove some funding from the so-called First 5 Commissions for children and family programs, derived from the increased tobacco tax under Proposition 10, to use for budget balancing.
Proposition 1E would remove some funding from the Mental Health Services Act, derived from the Proposition 63 income tax hike for millionaires, to use for budget balancing.
Proposition 1F would stop state elected officials from receiving pay raises when the state budget is in deficit.
How will all this shake out? Well, the leading public polls in California, the Public Policy Institute of California and the Field Poll, have long shown that California voters wanted a combination a spending cuts and tax increases to bring the budget back into balance. So the campaign in favor starts out with that going for them.
It may all boil down to the extent that there is a "No" campaign on the initiatives. The far right in California can make a big noise, and terrorize Republican legislators in districts gerrymandered for conservatives into voting against any tax increases. (Amusingly, some who voted no urged two wavering colleagues to vote yes!) But they don't raise much money, except to perpetuate their own operations.On his second try in 2008, Schwarzenegger succeeded in passing the only redistricting initiative in history to win.
Schwarzenegger was his usual hyper-confident self at the end of last week at a Sacramento pre-school center once targeted for the budgetary axe when he joined state Senate Democratic leader Darrell Steinberg, former state Senate Republican leader Dave Cogdill, and various leaders from law enforcement, business, and labor to kick off the campaign. Schwarzenegger, Steinberg, and Cogdill all praised one another, not surprisingly, for the successful deal which came after months of haggling, and predicted victory. Polls have showed support for a state budget solution that mixed cuts, taxes, and a spending limit, and this package has all those things.
Schwarzenegger was not asked whether public employee unions will come in heavy to knock down the new state spending cap.
He was asked if he is concerned that former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, a Republican gubernatorial hopeful and Mitt Romney protege who has denounced the deal, will spend from her fortune to defeat the package, Schwarzenegger said he is not. "I don't take too seriously what is said at the Republican convention," he said. "It's all part of a kabuki."
He noted that if Whitman actually were to become governor of California - which voted 61% to 37% for Barack Obama over the Republican candidate whose campaign Whitman served as national co-chair, John McCain - she would be glad for the deal and the revenues and new rainy day fund provisions which she, or any other governor, would need.
So it's another California statewide election in the Era of Arnold, patron saint of the political junkie.Schwarzenegger campaigning for the massive California infrastructure initiatives package of 2006.
In 2002, he was still just planning to run governor. In 2006. Governor Gray Davis was running for re-election against the very conservative Bill Simon. Schwarzenegger was doing his election shakedown cruise, the Proposition 49 after school programs initiative, which won easily. The political atmosphere was toxic with negative campaigning after Davis shot down the relatively moderate former LA Mayor Dick Riordan by spending $10 million against him in the Republican primary, enabling Simon to get the nomination, and many wished there were another choice. As I revealed at the time, Schwarzenegger's people polled about the prospect of him running as a write-in candidate. But it didn't look that good, and he wasn't ready anyway.
In 2003, Davis was in danger of being recalled, and Schwarzenegger teased out the prospect of his running in the recall election. Which virtually no "expert" thought he would do. Of course, he did, and won in a landslide.
In 2004, Schwarzenegger held a special election to make constitutional some $15 billion worth of bonds to cover the state's deficit. The bonds were enacted by Davis and the Legislature in 2003, but were under serious legal challenge.
In 2005, Schwarzenegger held his disastrous "Year of Reform" special election in which all four of his initiatives, seen widely as his swing to the right under the influence of consultants such as Mike Murphy, went down to defeat.
In 2006, returned to his centrist positioning, and championing the biggest package of infrastructure bond initiatives in state history, Schwarzenegger won a landslide re-election.
In 2007, what's this? No election.Arnold Schwarzenegger pushed successfully to create an early California presidential primary.
In 2008, Schwarzenegger pushed successfully to move up the California presidential primary and intervened in the Republican primary to help John McCain knock his most dangerous rival, Mitt Romney, out of the race. In the fall, he got an initiative passed taking legislative redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature and into the hands of an independent commission.
That was an issue he and his team of the time had bungled in 2005. This time around, he worked with not only the reform groups like Common Cause and the League of Women voters but such Democrats as former Governor Gray Davis, former state Controller and big-time Obama backer Steve Westly and new CIA Director Leon Panetta, the former Clinton White House chief of staff.
It's almost tiring writing all that. It's almost like the guy likes campaigning or something.
And now it's yet another California statewide election.