You always know politicians are desperate when they begin threatening the voters who elected them. So it is today in California, where voters are being told that if they don’t okay all six statewide ballot propositions before them May 19, they will suffer grave circumstances.In fact, voters do face a Hobson’s choice: Either okay two more years of newly-raised taxes at one of the worst economic times in modern history or risk losing valuable government services that benefit almost everyone. “If these initiatives do not pass, we are looking at cutting $14 billion in programs,” says Democratic Assembly Speaker Karen Bass of Los Angeles. She’s talking about everything from schools and universities to parks and emergency health care, welfare and fire and police services. She may be a little confused about just what constitutes an initiative, but she’s threatening cuts in just about everything the state does or helps do. If these propositions lose, you can expect more state offices to close on more days, meaning it could be tougher to register a car, get a drivers license or renew one. Class sizes would likely rise to an average of 40 or more pupils almost everywhere. Federal stimulus money would help avoid some cuts, but not all that many. “Doomsday scenarios, that’s one thing – I think it’s important to be honest with the people about what the consequences are,” state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento told a reporter.All this threatening talk comes because if voters reject Propositions 1A through 1E (1F wouldn’t have much impact on finances, except the lawmakers’ own), they would be cutting short by two years the expected life of sales, vehicle and income tax increases approved by the Legislature in February. If voters dump them all, there also would go about $5.5 billion in fund manipulation – the state’s general fund borrowing from other funds like the state Lottery – that’s basic to the current budget plan. Add that sum to the $8 billion additional revenue shortfall the state’s legislative analyst now predicts for the next year, and you’ve got a brand-new deficit of about $14 billion.No one knows how that financial black hole might be resolved over the summer, but most of the six legislative Republicans who risked their political hides to vote for the February budget compromise say they won’t OK any more new or restored taxes. The entire deficit would have to be made up via “program reductions,” they say. Read: layoffs, closed offices, prisoner releases and a host of other items no one wants to see.Road maintenance would also likely suffer if these propositions lose, even if new construction continues with bond money and federal stimulus dollars that do not come from the general fund.If the propositions lose and all this happens, lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will have no one to blame but themselves.Legislators who wrote the ballot arguments for Proposition 1A, for instance, deliberately failed to mention the fact that this measure extends tax increases two years. They chose to stress its spending cap provisions instead, opening themselves to charges of deception.Unwilling or unable to raise taxes even more, they also are trying to get voters to let them take funds already earmarked via prior ballot measures for causes like schools and mental health and use them for other things. Asking voters to change prior choices is not often a formula for ballot box success.And then there’s Schwarzenegger, who has loudly and repeatedly said passage of these measures is vital – and spent much of April outside the state, partly on vacation, when he could have been stumping for them.Maybe those absences were realism at work, with the governor understanding that with a positive job performance rating somewhere between 33 percent and 38 percent, he’s not exactly a plus for the proposition campaign.It’s hard to see what else might be a plus, either. Every poll shows that the more voters learn about these propositions, the taxes they mandate and the deceptive nature of their official ballot arguments, the less likely they are to vote yes on any of them – except 1F, which hits legislators financially when they are late passing budgets.So it’s no wonder the pols have turned to doomsday threats. That may be the only way they can get voters’ attention for a batch of seriously flawed propositions that place new burdens on recession-wracked citizens while failing to provide any permanent solutions to the state’s long-running budget problems.
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