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May 19 State Ballot Measures to Test Voters’ Budget Fatigue

Sacramento is looking for approval of latest plans to solve perennial shortfalls

Whether you’re aware of it or realize how it will affect you, a special election will be held May 19 for six budget-related ballot measures proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature. The package deal — the result of Sacramento’s long-running struggle to close California’s $42 billion budget shortfall, a perennial problem — includes measures dealing with tax increases, reallocation of funding for mental health services, “First Five” programs, education and a provision that, if approved, would not allow legislators to receive pay raises if the state is running a deficit.

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According to Secretary of State Debra Bowen, the six ballot measures are:

Proposition 1A — The measure increases California’s “Rainy Day Fund” in the General Fund to 12.5 percent from 5 percent. A portion of the annual deposits from the fund would be set aside for future economic downturns, and the remainder would go toward funding education, infrastructure and debt repayment, or would be available in a declared emergency. This money comes from increases in sales and use taxes, vehicle license fees and personal income tax. If the measure is approved, these tax increases are expected to boost state revenue by $16 billion by 2013.

Proposition 1B — This measure would mandate $9.3 billion in payments to schools and community colleges in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, forgoing short-term increases. The $9.3 billion would be paid out over a six-year period.

Proposition 1C — The measure, also called the Lottery Modernization Act, would allow California to borrow against future lottery revenues. Current requirements have lottery revenues funding education, but the measure’s authors say the state would increase funding from the General Fund to make up for the loss of the lottery payments. The measure could allow the state to borrow $5 billion in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, and borrow more in the future, and the limit does not cap how much the state could borrow.

Proposition 1D — This measure would shift about $268 million of annual tobacco revenue that currently funds “First Five” early childhood development programs into a reserve fund. That fund would be used to pay for other childhood services, and an additional $340 million would come out of “First Five” reserve funds. That money would be used to pay for programs that are normally funded by the General Fund, like foster care, child care, Medi-Cal and state preschool.

Proposition 1E — The proposition would amend the voter-approved Mental Health Services Act, and would allow funding for mental health services to be redirected for two years, putting about $460 million from mental health into the General Fund savings. The funding from the MHSA normally is applied toward mental health services for children and young adults, and community services, prevention and early intervention, and would be cut to supplement the General Fund.

Proposition 1F — This measure would prevent elected legislators and statewide constitutional officers, including the governor, from receiving pay raises in the years that California is running a deficit. This would be determined by the state’s Director of Finance annually.

So, how are the May ballot measures being received locally?

Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, said the measures represent a negotiated bipartisan approach to different aspects of the budget crisis.

“No one likes having to raise taxes or making deep cuts to needed programs,” he said, “but California is suffering from the economic downturn just like the rest of the nation and the world.”

Nava said the measures, as a whole, attempt to balance additional revenues with cuts.

“If any one of them fails, the result will be more deep cuts in a variety of services,” he said.

According to Nava, April tax receipts are estimated to be about $8 billion less than what the state needs to continue its current level of funding.

“If the voters reject Measures A through E, the Legislature will have little choice but to again make deep cuts to programs that impact every one of us,” he said.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is state Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, whose district includes southern Santa Barbara County and who voted against the budget that was passed earlier this year. Strickland said raising taxes in this economy was not the answer. Further, he said, he opposes Propositions 1A and 1B, noting that should the measures pass, California will see a $13 billion to $14 billion increase in the deficit.

“The worst-case scenario is that we’d be right back were we started and we’re costing thousands of jobs” because of the tax hikes, he said.

Lanny Ebenstein, president of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association, said his organization also opposes 1A.

“We feel that taxes in the state are already too high,” said Ebenstein, who called for deficit reduction through less spending instead of higher taxes.

Joe Holland, Santa Barbara County’s clerk, recorder and assessor, said he’s hopeful county turnout will be close to 50 percent. He said factors like the budget crisis and the momentum from November’s high turnout — which at 86 percent was the highest since 1960 — could help get out the vote May 19. Holland cited a 2005 special election — with a similar ballot of eight measures, none of which passed — that drew a 55 percent turnout after a heavily publicized campaign.

The county’s total cost to run May’s election is about $1 million, an amount Holland said the state will reimburse because it’s a special statewide election.

Some voters are already casting ballots, like members of the military and overseas residents. Holland said that 100,000 vote-by-mail ballots will be sent out 29 days before the election, and he encouraged would-be voters to sign up to vote by mail.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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