Sunday, May 24, 2009




Call the Tuesday election results a resounding vote of no confidence against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the entire cadre of politicians who run California state government.

For sure the polls don't lie when they say 82 percent of voters rate the Legislature's performance poor or worse. Or when they report that Schwarzenegger gets almost the same dismal marks.

We also know from the failure of Proposition 1-A that voters will not willingly put up with prevarication by elected representatives. And prevarication is the mildest way to describe what legislators and their backers tried to pull in omitting from all ballot arguments on Proposition 1-A that it would extend from two years to four the duration of increases in sales, vehicle and income taxes.

Voters repeatedly okay new taxes when they think the money will go to causes they like and if they think backers of such proposals are honest. That's why the great majority of school construction bond issues - which amount to property tax increases - have passed in local elections since the two-thirds threshold for passage dropped to 55 percent nine years ago.

But when unpopular politicians try to foist tax increases on Californians via dishonest means without detailing the consequences of defeat for their propositions until the last moment, that defeat is almost certain.

Similarly, the fate of propositions 1-A through 1-E shows it doesn't pay when politicians try to switch money the voters have approved for one cause to something completely different. That's what was attempted here with funds from the state Lottery and tax dollars levied for specific causes like children's mental health and preschool education.

When politicians think the real wishes of the voters are something other than what they originally voted for, those politicians are often wrong.

Another way to look at the outcome is that it demonstrates phenomenal ineptitude by California's highest elected officials.

This outcome, then, amounts to as definite a vote of no confidence as a state government can get, short of recall. By itself, defeat of the first five measures on the ballot would have sent that message. But the overwhelming, simultaneous passage of Proposition 1-F, forbidding raises for government officials when they can't balance a budget, left no doubt.

And now there will be consequences. For the defeat of Propositions 1-C, 1-D and 1-E means at least $6 billion will be lacking from the budget approved in February. Add another $8 billion to $9 billion in expected tax money lost to the recession and California this summer faces a new $15 billion budget hole, at a minimum, with larger figures possible in the future after expiration of two years of increased sales, vehicle and income taxes.

The few Republicans who voted for the February budget compromise that led to this special election make it as clear as they can that they won't be okaying any more new taxes, that any shortfalls will have to be made up via program cuts.

First to face the ax will be public education. Since schools on the elementary and high school levels are entitled to 39 percent of the general fund budget, they also are likely to absorb 39 percent of the new cash shortage.

This could mean larger class sizes, fewer arts and advanced placement courses and less support for athletics, among other items. Look for individual schools to put the bite on parents for private contributions to make up at least part of this. Some public schools already dun parents up to $1,000 per student to keep things going. Those fund-raising efforts will only go up, and as they do, differences between schools in wealthy and poor areas will surely become starker.

There will also be cuts in medical aid to both the indigent and children, not to mention immigrants, both legal and illegal. Park closures can be expected, at both state and local levels. The list will be long and painful. And it will have consequences: When public health programs are cut, the risk of contagion and epidemics necessarily rises.

Once again, blame the ineptitude of public officials. They didn't advertise the consequences of defeat for these propositions either widely or convincingly until it was too late. Just as they tried to hide the true content of Proposition 1-A, they also didn't do much to let people know what a loss could mean.

All of which ought to produce serious consequences for those politicians. But for most, it won't. Today's thoroughly gerrymandered legislative districts virtually guarantee reelection for everyone who's not termed out.

Which means the real solution will have to be effective use of the new redistricting process okayed by voters last year and passage of an open-primary proposition that's set for a vote in June 2010. These two measures are about the only hope voters have of getting some wholesale change in Sacramento, where new faces and ideas have never been needed more urgently.

Email Thomas Elias at For more Elias columns, visit

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