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UPDATED: Five state propositions fail

Voters overwhelmingly reject governor-based proposals to help close California’s budget gap

Posted: May 19, 2009 10:21 p.m.
Updated: May 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Ed Fella marks his ballot in the voting booth at Valencia Glen Park in the community room polling place Tuesday for the special election.

 
California voters turned thumbs-down Tuesday to five ballot measures that would have shuffled funds and extended taxes to bolster the state's red-ink budget, but they resoundingly endorsed a measure to freeze legislators' pay during times of deficit spending.

"The voters get it. They blame the legislators for the budget problems," said Bob Haueter, chairman of the 38th Republican Central Committee, during a Republican celebration as polling results rolled in.

"They've got to stop spending," voter Nancy Chambers of Valencia said about legislators after she cast her ballot Tuesday.

"I don't think anything's going to fix this," said her husband, Paul Chambers.

"We still need to spend money on law enforcement and emergency services - especially in these times we need to stay safe," Paul Chambers said. "But we could cut back on some of the other civil-service jobs."

Voter Lela Kobel of Valencia opposed Propositions 1A, 1B and 1C, but she supported Proposition 1F.

"I do agree with curtailing the salaries of (state legislators)," she said.

Propositions 1A through 1E trailed all night Tuesday as polling results poured in.

But Proposition 1F was passed so resoundingly that the Associated Press declared it victorious just an hour after polls closed.

A ballot that confused many voters, frustration with lawmakers over the state's persistent budget deficits and a recession-weary electorate facing rising unemployment and higher taxes spelled trouble for the ballot measures.

"The propositions are confusing because they are not cut and dry," Kobel said. "There are a lot of fine points that not every (voter) looks at."

"Most people don't know what they're voting for," Nancy Chambers agreed.

"Obviously, it's disappointing," said Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, chairwoman of the Assembly Budget Committee.
"But I think the voters are sending a message that they believe the budget is the job of the governor and Legislature," she said. "We probably need to go back and do our job."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger missed Election Day in California but cast a mail-in ballot before leaving for the nation's capital, where he joined a White House announcement on new vehicle fuel-efficiency standards.

The Republican governor spent part of the day talking to members of California's congressional delegation, bracing them for the prospect of additional spending cuts if the propositions failed.

Laying off thousands of state employees, reducing the school year by seven days and cutting health care services for tens of thousands of low-income children are among the options. California will need a waiver from the federal government allowing it to make some of those cuts without jeopardizing money from the federal stimulus package.

Despite the doomsday predictions, California voters largely tuned out, illustrated by the trickle at polling places throughout the state.

Local election officials projected that about a third of the state's 17.1 million registered voters would cast ballots, roughly half of whom were expected to do so through mail-in ballots.

Sentiment at polling stations throughout the state was a mix of anger toward politicians and resignation that the state would continue to face financial turmoil no matter the outcome of Tuesday's vote.

Schwarzenegger said last week that the state's deficit would be $15.4 billion in the coming fiscal year even if voters approved the propositions. It would grow by nearly $6 billion if they did not.

The six propositions were a mixture of reforms, higher taxes, borrowing and funding shifts that will determine the severity of the coming year's budget cuts.

The measure with the greatest immediate effect would have been Proposition 1C, which would authorize the state to borrow $5 billion and repay it - with interest - with future revenue from the state lottery.

Propositions 1D and 1E, which would borrow from child development and mental health programs, would have injected about $900 million into the state's general fund if passed.

Schwarzenegger and lawmakers called the special election in February as part of a plan to solve a $42 billion deficit that had been projected through mid-2010. Their budget package also included $15 billion in cuts and $12 billion in higher sales, income and vehicle taxes.

The centerpiece measure on Tuesday's ballot was Proposition 1A, which would have created a state spending cap and beefed up the state's rainy-day fund.

It also would have triggered a continuation of the tax hikes for an extra one or two years.

It generated the most opposition, uniting anti-tax groups and state employee unions that typically are odds with each other.

Proposition 1B would have restored more than $9 billion for education funding but would have taken effect only if 1A passed.

Like many voters, Ken Small, a 59-year-old elder care consultant, said the ballot propositions were confusing.

"I think we're all frustrated," he said as he voted at an elementary school in the Sacramento suburb of Antelope.

Even if the propositions had passed, Schwarzenegger and lawmakers would have faced a multibillion dollar deficit in the fiscal year that begins in July.

They are scheduled to meet later this month to begin discussing their options.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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