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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

California Meltdown

You may not have heard about it, but they’re having an election in California today, with some local contests, but also with a statewide batch of ballot propositions designed to implement the budget agreement reached in February, after much yelling and screaming, between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic legislators (with a few key votes from Republicans).
Pretty much everybody concedes that all but one of the propositions–one that freezes legislators’ salaries when the state budget is out of balance–are very likely to go down when the ballots are counted (and given the very low turnout, that won’t take long).
The central proposition–titled 1A–sought to solidify the budget deal by extending a tax increase for two years while imposing a limit on state spending and strengthening the state’s “rainy’day” fund. It was advertised, in reasonably heavy TV ads financed mainly by the two major teachers unions, as representing an end to California’s perpetual budget crisis. Instead, it’s being perceived as a symbol of the budget crisis, as most Republicans, some Democrats, and notably two public employee unions (SEIU and AFSCME) are opposing it.
For all the talk about 1A and the closely related proposition 1B (which deals specifically with ensuring future education spending), the biggest immediate budget impact would come from proposition 1C, which authorizes an immediate $5 billion loan to the state from future lottery earnings. But 1C is faring even worse in the polls than its better-known companion measures.
Meanwhile, state revenue collections are going even more poorly than was expected when the budget deal “fixed” the budget shortfall, so when all’s said and done, tomorrow California will likely face a cumulative budget shortfall of $21 billion, according to Schwarzenegger’s estimates. While the Governator has spent the last week issuing dire predictions of massive layoffs and untended fires, he’s actually in Washington today to join President Obama for the announcement of new federal tailpipe emissions standards similar to California’s.
Ah-nold’s trip out of town is being greeted with horselaughs from across the political spectrum (his own approval ratings are down to 33%), but especially from Republicans.
You get the feeling listening to California conservatives right now that they think of the budget revolt as an extension of “tea party” sentiment, and that after they get rid of their (term-limited) RINO governor they will reclaim power in Sacramento on a hard-core platform of massive reductions in state spending and employment. This is already playing out in the runup to the 2010 governor’s race: just last week, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, considered something of a “moderate” in GOP circles, promised to lay off 30,000 to 40,000 state employees. And that was before the much darker fiscal picture that will emerge if the budget propositions go down.
I suspect Republicans tend to underestimate the extent to which unhappiness with the status quo in California is a matter of poor services and not just high taxes; cutbacks and tuition increases in the higher education system have been particularly unpopular. But anytime GOPers these days think they have an opportunity to win elections while making cooing noises at their “base,” they’ll go for it every time.

One comment on “California Meltdown

  1. janinsanfran on

    If the Democrats in California were a little more interested in fixing the mess voters have made by initiative over the years instead of playing the musical chairs via the term limit game, they might be able to govern the state. This place won’t be governable until our political leaders are willing to support a struggle to restore representative government by repealing the insane rule that requires a 2/3 vote for a budget. Republicans are imploding here as elsewhere; Democrats have everything to gain, but they have to lead the rage, not just hunker down as individuals behind the mob.

    Reply

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