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By Miriam Raftery

Voters resoundingly defeated Propositions 1A-E at the polls, passing only 1F, a measure to freeze legislators’ pay when the state is running a deficit. But what message was the public really trying to send to elected representatives? Does the public want deeper cuts in state spending (and if so, where?) or do voters want an option not presented on their ballots: raisng revenues to protect vital state services?

The measures came before voters after months of budget deadlock in Sacramento, where Republicans held firm in refusing to approve any budget with a tax increase(not even cutting a loophole for yacht owners). The GOP argued to cut expenses, not raise revenues. Now GOP leaders are hailing failure of the propositions as a victory, claiming voters are rejecting all new taxes. Some say that voters sent a green light for new budget cuts so steep that the Governor is considering closing most state parks, eliminating healthcare for children and turning loose thousands of criminals from state prisons. Others believe there is still fat to be trimmed instead, suggesting options ranging from privatizing prisons to eliminating some consumer oversight boards.

Liberals, meanwhile, have an entirely different interpretation—suggesting voters instead disapproved of being asked to choose from among bad options such as borrowing on lottery revenues or cutting funds for the mentally ill. Indeed, Democrats were split on the initiatives, with many liberal groups opposed. At least one poll suggests voters would prefer to see some taxes raised (such as on cigarettes, wealthy taxpayers and big corporations) rather than have painful cuts Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is now forced to consider. ( For poll details, see an editorial by David O. Atkins: http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/?q=node/1248 )Now some groups are urging voters to sign a petition to let a simple majority in the Democratic-controlled legislature make budget and tax decisions.

Here are highlights (or lowlights, depending on your point of view) from California leaders on both sides of the political aisle.

“With this election, the people of California have sent a clear message to Sacramento,” said Republican minority leader Dennis Hollingsworth, who represents East County.” They know that their government has failed them. They have lost confidence in government to fix the budget or the problems they face every day.” He added, ““Senate Republicans have heard the voter’s message and are committed to overhauling and reforming that system to make it work for them again.”

Days later, Hollingsworth and other GOP leaders held a press conference to unveil a plan he said would “ end the cycle of permanent budget crises, make government work efficiently, help create new jobs, and change the self-serving culture in Sacramento.” A press releases issued is sketchy on details, but pledges to push the state to to shed billions of dollars I properties and dump various boards and commissions however: http://cssrc.us/news.aspx?id=6125 . (Note: In a prior article, East County Magazine examined a list of “wasteful” boards and commissions named by the California Performance Review that Assemblyman Joel Anderson and other GOP leaders have cited for potential elimination or consolidation. That list included the California State Contractor’s Licensing Board as well as medical and hospital review boards.)

But progressive groups such as the Courage Campaign and the League of Young Voters argue that there is not sufficient waste left to trim. Instead of hacking away at programs and services they view as critical, Courage Campaign is now urging voters to support eliminating California’s requirement for a 2/3 vote on budgets. One of only a handful of states to require a super-majority, California has found itself unable to win passage in the legislature for any budget with tax increases to raise revenues, despite having a solid Democratic majority.

“The special election resolved nothing. California still faces a massive budget deficit. And, try as they might, our state legislators will likely fail to close the gap because the system in which they operate is inherently dysfunctional,” Courage campaign’s website states. “The legislature cannot do its job because unlike 47 other states, it cannot make budget decisions by a majority vote. As a result of the ridiculous 2/3rds requirement for passing a budget, a small cabal of right-wing Republicans hold California's budget hostage year after year after year. Government fails when it isn't democratic, as the 2/3rds rule repeatedly proves.”

Declaring it time to “bring democracy to California’s broken government,” the groups have launched a “Declaration of Democracy” that they are asking voters to sign, calling for a simple majority for budget and tax measures in Sacramento: http://www.couragecampaign.org/page/s/Declaration.

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Unions in state government

Getting rid of 2/3 majority will give more control to democrats and it will mean more taxes. Democrats are in bed with unions and thats what unions want, a 50% majority. I don't think it is the republicans who have held hostage our budget but it is the unions. Unions are already getting lot, look at their pension plans. State union employees still make 70% of their salaries in pension. Fire fighters get 90% of their salaries as pension, after 5 years fire fighter can easily make 100,000. Also cut the benefits. We taxpayers are paying anywhere from $25 to $35 co-pay but when unions have to pay $10 they go on strike. Damn you can't even fire these unions employee. I say we get rid of these union parasites from our government or at least get these democrats our of sacramento.