SACRAMENTO — Giving a boost to the state's Republican governor, the California Democratic Party will announce today its endorsement of two ballot measures -- Propositions 57 and 58 -- that are at the center of Arnold Schwarzenegger's efforts to bring California back from the financial brink.
Proposition 57 would authorize a $15-billion general obligation bond to cover the state's structural shortfall. Proposition 58 would add a balanced-budget amendment to the state Constitution that would set up a rainy-day fund for the state budget. The measures are linked; if either one fails, both go down.
Although nearly all the state's political establishment supports Proposition 57, the endorsement is viewed as critical because it was trailing in the most recent public polls. A Public Policy Institute of California poll released in mid-January found that 50% of Democrats prepared to reject the measure, compared with 31% in support. And the state party declined to endorse the measure at its convention last month, with some liberals arguing that tax increases would be preferable to borrowing. Some Democrats also have expressed concerns that passage would strengthen Schwarzenegger for subsequent fights over workers' compensation reform and the budget itself.
The endorsement helps reinforce the bipartisan message of the campaign to pass the measures. It comes on the same day that the campaign launches its first television advertisement, which shows Schwarzenegger and Democratic state Controller Steve Westly literally completing each other's sentences as they talk about the two propositions.
Leading Democrats have expressed support for the measure in recent weeks. And leaders in the party said Monday that they need it in order to forestall billions in cuts to cherished programs.
"We're going to come out for it tomorrow," said Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) in an interview Monday night. "It lessens the economic crunch this year by $3 billion. If that doesn't happen, it's just $3 billion in cuts for [stuff] we care about."
Burton added: "I think, clearly, if Gray Davis was governor and proposed it we would also endorse it. Just to oppose it because it's proposed by a Republican governor doesn't make a lot of ... sense."
Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles), the new Assembly speaker, on Monday also hinted at an endorsement.
"We support Prop. 57 and we support Prop. 58, and I think that you will see very shortly even the Democratic Party will come on board and support both of those initiatives. They are essential to our economic survivability. We need those in order for the state's fiscal crisis not to be pushed over a cliff."
There are no plans for the party to give money directly to the campaign for the ballot measures, according to two Democrats familiar with the matter.
Darry Sragow, a Democratic political consultant who is working for the campaign, said Monday night that an endorsement would help dispel the reluctance of some Democrats who "view 57 and 58 as a Republican proposal, so they are suspicious that something must be wrong with it."
Although the endorsement is not expected to come with a financial contribution from the Democratic Party, it may convince some Democratic donors to give.
"What the endorsement does is send a very strong signal that Propositions 57 and 58 are a genuine bipartisan effort," Sragow said. That "will lead both to votes and, I suspect, to contributions from some sources who may have been reluctant if it was a proxy of the Republican Party."
Times staff writers Michael Finnegan, Evan Halper, Virginia Ellis and Jeffrey L. Rabin contributed to this report.