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Schwarzenegger pleads for passage of ballot measures

California's governor visits three Los Angeles churches to try to convince voters of the need for the measures to be approved in Tuesday's special election, to help fix the state's fiscal crisis.

May 18, 2009|Cathleen Decker and Michael Finnegan

Battling anger and indifference on the part of California voters, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger implored them Sunday not to make the state "the poster child for dysfunction" by defeating a host of measures on Tuesday's ballot that seek to restructure the state's bleak finances.

The governor's visits to three African American churches in Los Angeles came as proponents and opponents of the ballot measures marshaled the last of the millions of dollars they have collected for the special election. Schwarzenegger said Sunday he had been told that about 25% of voters are expected to show up, a paltry percentage that underscores the difficulty of the quest for reliable voters.

Schwarzenegger, accompanied by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and other officials, sought Sunday to summon a strong turnout by a voter bloc traditionally concerned about cutbacks in government programs of the sort the governor has threatened if the measures are defeated.

"We are at a crossroads," he told congregants at West Angeles Church of God in Christ. "Do we want to go . . . down the road of financial disaster or do we want to go and get up, dust ourselves off and slowly march back toward prosperity? That is the question on Tuesday."

But even among the church crowds who listened to the official pitch there was skepticism about the proposals. Jo Evelyn Payne, 62, a retired loan servicing assistant who lives in Inglewood, said she was wavering over the package. She said she had little faith in California ballot measures and also mistrusts Schwarzenegger.

"I've never been able to see the money go to where they say it's going," said Payne, clutching a Bible outside the newly renovated Second Baptist Church, where Schwarzenegger also spoke. "I'm not entirely convinced that if we pass it, that the money's going to go where they say it's going to go."

Judith Younger, 49, a Santa Monica resident who works at LAX, said she had been leaning toward supporting at least Propositions 1A and 1B but changed her mind after reading "the fine print."

"I was discouraged and felt betrayed," she said between spoonfuls of yogurt on the church's front steps. "I don't think it's going to help."

The sheer complexity of the ballot measures was only one of the reasons that polls showed most of them lagging among voters likely to cast ballots. With employment and savings plummeting, voters forced to tighten their own belts were responding angrily to a demand from state officials for more money. And many voters appear to be throwing up their hands at the constant call to the polls.

Schwarzenegger and other officials were trying to tamp down those sentiments. "We understand that anger," the governor said. "We understand that frustration."

But, he added in a brief news conference after he spoke at First A.M.E. Church, "The people should know that this is about California's legacy, this is about California's future, because I think that we should not become . . . the poster child for dysfunction. We should be known as the state where everything is possible."

Even without a highly organized, money-heavy campaign or many rallying events, the opponents of the ballot measures were confident they had voters on their side.

"We've got our Internet networks up and we're cranking out last-minute information, but we're doing it on the cheap and it's been effective so far," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers' Assn.

The ballot measures were the product of a budget deal earlier this year between Schwarzenegger and lawmakers. Proposition 1A would boost the state's rainy day fund, invoke a spending cap and trigger the extension of recent tax hikes for up to two years. Proposition 1B would begin to restore cuts to schools if 1A is also approved. Proposition 1C would allow officials to borrow $5 billion in state lottery money for general purposes. Propositions 1D and 1E would transfer money for budget use that currently is set aside for children's and mental health services. Proposition F, the only one that polls show voters leaning toward approving, would ban raises for legislators and state officeholders in years when California runs a deficit.

The propositions not only have been complicated for voters to understand but also fragmented the state's typical electoral architecture. Republicans were forced to choose whether a spending cap that they have long sought outweighed a temporary extension of taxes. Democrats were pinched between a spending cap they have abhorred and the fact that if it fails, the money taken in the past from education would not be repaid. Labor groups that have marched in lock step for years, often against Schwarzenegger, were suddenly split, with many of the more prominent ones allied with their former foe.

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