May 20, 2009

I CONFESS TO NOT HAVING FOLLOWED THIS STORY, BUT...:

California's electorate as dysfunctional as Legislature? (James P. Sweeney, 5/19/09, San Diego Union-Tribune)

A few weeks ago, a voter at a gathering organized by campaign consultants said he believed cutting schools, police and fire departments would be disastrous.

But that didn't mean he was ready to vote for the budget-related measures on Tuesday's ballot.

“The moderator said 'You just said these things would be horrible. How can you still vote no?' ” recalled Rick Claussen, chief strategist for the campaign in favor of Propositions 1A-1F. “He said, 'Because I'm mad and I want to send Sacramento a message and I want to punish the politicians.' ”

Despite more than $31 million spent on behalf of the measures, all but Proposition 1F, a largely symbolic measure to prohibit legislative pay raises when the state is running a deficit, were soundly rejected. [...]

[V]oters seemed not to heed, or to care, about the potential consequences. Or they simply didn't buy the threats.

“It appears to me that the electorate is every bit as dysfunctional as our Legislature,” Hoffenblum said. “They're confused. They're mad. They're distrustful of anything that Arnold or the legislative leaders say.”

To Hoffenblum and Claussen, the defiant mood in the face of doomsday scenarios from political leaders was reminiscent of the public sentiment 31 years ago, when property-tax-cutting Proposition 13 passed despite similar warnings.

“It was very difficult to have a rational dialogue with a voter who is so overwhelmingly angry and surly and absolutely convinced that Sacramento is a totally dysfunctional operation,” Claussen said of the recent campaign.

Others believe the measures' fate was sealed in the negotiations that produced a complex package designed to avert a repeat of 2005, when voters rejected an earlier batch of Schwarzenegger “reform” measures.

“Schwarzenegger and the legislators put together an initiative package designed to either win over or sideline most of the likely opposition,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “In doing so, they ended up with something way too complicated for people to understand.”

The defeat of Proposition 1A, which would have extended a series of tax increases for another two years, will be interpreted as clear sentiment against higher taxes as part of the solution to the state's financial troubles.

The Republican governor and the Legislature's GOP leaders already have said additional tax increases are out of the question. Majority Democrats say the magnitude of the problem requires another look at all options, but they can't muster the two-thirds vote required to raise taxes without Republican support.


...if other states generally spend about a quarter of their budgets on public education and California spends almost 60% it doesn't seem like identifying the solution is particularly complex. Mustering the political will is a different matter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 20, 2009 8:05 AM
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