As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Strange Bedfellows Against Prop. 1A

Gov. Schwarzenegger is giving a speech right now at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, the kickoff of his campaign for the state budget items in the May 19 special election. In some remarks released earlier, it's clear Arnold is highlighting - and is most concerned about - the spending cap.

“Our state capital is a town that feeds on dysfunction. The special interests, left and right, need the process to be dysfunctional. That is how they control Sacramento. That is how they prevent change.”

“But now we have an agreement, passed by two-thirds of the legislature, that puts on the ballot serious budget reform, including a spending limit and a rainy day fund.

“And the very interests, the far left and the far right, that prefer dysfunction over change have already launched a campaign to confuse people and defeat the reform. But this time they are not going to succeed.”

Arnold probably sees this as a selling point, that if Democrats are against his plan, and Republicans are against his plan, then it must be just right. But this Goldilocks centrism masks the extremism of the spending cap plan, which would ratchet down revenues and cut vital services permanently. It also represents a serious miscalculation on the part of the Governor, who apparently still thinks his post-partisan message actually works in this state. That's the same political genius that has Schwarzenegger polling worse than Carly Fiorina in potential 2010 Senate matchups against Barbara Boxer. And even Schwarzenegger's own strategists seem to know that he cannot be the public face of the special election, lest he doom it to failure.

Opponents of the measures say their private polling has shown linking the initiatives to the governor drives down support of the measures. That has been echoed by some supporters of the ballot measures, who have also started testing potential campaign messages.

But (campaign strategist) Adam Mendelsohn said Schwarzenegger’s star power and his ability to get news coverage is still a great asset for the campaign.

“There is no elected official in this state capable of dominating coverage like Arnold Schwarzenegger. The chattering class loves to look at his approval numbers and then cast dispersions, but communicating in a campaign is a lot more complex than just looking at approval numbers.”

Uh, yeah, Mr. Mendelsohn, that's the PROBLEM. He's extremely unpopular with everyone but the Dan Weintraubs of the world. And there aren't 17 million Dan Weintraubs living here.

The spending cap, with something for everyone to hate, is particularly vulnerable in the special election. Republicans have been calling for a hard cap for years, if not decades, but they've become so blinded by the Heads on a Stick faction of their party that they cannot look past the short-term of two years of tax increases and realize what they would be getting. But the Yacht Party infantry clearly doesn't care: heck, they're trying to recall Roy Ashburn, who's termed out in 2010 anyway. So their entire side, or at least everyone who wants to be elected in a primary, is lining up against 1A. Meg Whitman has come out against it.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has already announced her opposition to Proposition 1A, and Whitman spokesman Mitch Zak did not rule out the possibility that Whitman would spend money against the measure.

“She’s been very outspoken in her opposition to 1A,” Zak said. “We’ve not made a decision how that opposition manifests at this point. We’re keeping our options open.”

The Flash Report is claiming that Steve Poizner will oppose the measure as well, and he is hinting at contributing funding.

They will be joined by at least some segment of Assembly Democrats.

After a long, closed-door meeting Tuesday, Assembly Democrats remain divided over the budget-balancing ballot measure at the heart of the May 19 special election, Proposition 1A, which would impose a cap and raise taxes.

“Our caucus had a very long discussion on this,” Assembly Speaker Karen Bass told Capitol Weekly. “There are a number of members who are supportive of 1A, there are several members who are opposed to 1A, and there are many others who are trying to decide. We are working through this and we will have another caucus next week,” she said Tuesday evening.

Looks like Bass will have a lot more colleagues to boot out of committee assignments. You'll remember that she punished the three Democrats who actually voted against the spending cap on the floor back in February. Now a good bit of the caucus is revolting.

The caucus did vote to support 1B through 1F, and that's probably because they know that there's going to be more cuts coming down the road, and voters opposing the revenue-enhancing items on the ballot will make their job harder.

But, she added, “I’m hearing that we are going to have a $4 billion dollar (revenue) hole, so if the ballot measures don’t pass, then it becomes $9 billion or $10 billion hole.”

As I said, the crisis continues.

So I'm seeing the anti-tax groups, progressive advocates, the big money in the GOP, half the Assembly Democratic caucus, all against 1A. On the pro side, Arnold, George Skelton, and Steve Westly, who says 1A will "instill much needed fiscal discipline". Yeah, poor people and the blind, get some fiscal discipline, you scumbags!

The wildcard remains the unions, who with even a little bit of financial backing could tip the scales on 1A. SEIU and AFSCME have delayed formal positions until later this month. But the Administration is trying to intimidate them into going along with it.

Here's why it matters to state workers: Last week, the Association of California State Supervisors asked administration officials if the governor would still lay off employees, or if he would abandon the plan since lawmakers have passed a budget.

(Remember, state workers' twice-monthly furlough is just part of how the governor wants to cut costs. Layoff warnings went to 20,000 of the state's least senior employees last month. Half could lose their jobs, officials have said.)

The administration's answer, from notes taken by an association representative: "We hope the five budget-related propositions pass ... . If the propositions do not pass, we will be in a worse situation, with more furloughs and layoffs."

This is despite the fact that 1A would have NO IMPACT whatsoever on the immediate bottom line; in fact, passing it would hurt the budget for state workers more than defeating it. "Vote like your job depends on it... because it does." That must be the working motto.

The question is, will the intimidation work? Obviously, the fact that the tax increase extensions in 1A are practically hidden on the ballot is going to arouse anger amongst the Heads on a Stick crowd. And progressive advocates are sticking to principle that an artificial spending cap has failed wherever it's been tried and is wrong for the state. In the mythical middle you have the vain Mr. Schwarzenegger, desperately trying to stay relevant. Ultimately, this is a referendum on him.

UPDATE: And here we go. The League of Women Voters just announced they're opposing 1A, along with 1C, 1D, and 1E (selling the lottery and moving money from voter-approved funds for children's programs and mental health). This is big if it's a harbinger of how other groups will line up.

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