On Tuesday, May 19th, California voters will be invited to participate in a lose-lose election. The emergency ballot initiatives 1A-1F are a concerted effort thrown together by State legislators to soften the blow of looming debts and declining revenues, and many are saying it’s a hard pill we have to swallow to prevent utter bankruptcy.
Governor Schwarzenegger held a press conference on Thursday to intimidate voters by outlines his proposed cuts should the measures fail, then included all of the disastrous cuts which will be made if the measures pass. Major newspapers are backing the passage, holding their noses while writing their opinion pieces.
No one can deny that these are dire straits, but many are arguing how to cope with a projected $21+ billion deficit. If all propositions pass the deficit would be reduced to a projected $15.4-billion, hence the damned if you do, damned if you don’t atmosphere surrounding the special election.
Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome (and polls are sinking five of the six) the State would still borrow $6 billion for debts and make sweeping cuts to education and health, cut government staff and sell off property including San Quentin State Prison. Schwarzenegger plans on diverting an estimated 23,000 state prisoners into county systems as well as handing over 19,000 undocumented prisoners (presumably people incarcerated for being undocumented) to the Feds. He has also proposed drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara.
Many of the contingency cuts will simply be increases to those proposed no matter the outcome of the election. The thickest neck on the chopping block belongs to education and lawmakers are scrambling to manipulate numbers to maximize their ability to reduce funds. State Finance Director Mike Genest is pushing for an immediate $1 billion cut from school budgets by the end of the quarter to decrease the required funding for next year’s budget. Meanwhile the State is examining larger cuts while mindful of Federal requirements in education funding for stimulus money. Critics rightfully criticize the Governor’s team’s suggestion that stimulus money can compensate schools as the bailout is intended to stimulate the economy, not provide debt relief.
An additional $2 billion could be borrowed from county governments already suffering from empty coffers and more people turning to public services. The decision to remand state prisoners into county jurisdiction is especially offensive because it passes costs to local governments while picking their pockets. These forced loans would have to be repaid within three years, assuming that California is able to miraculously rebound in that time frame after removing much of the security net many residents are clinging to while impoverishing county governments.
No one is going to win on Tuesday. There are no candidates up for office, at least not in San Francisco, and turnout is likely to be very low. However, given the grave nature of this special election I feel it’s of the utmost importance to sign my name, cast my ballot and share in the experience of riding the sinking ship down. If my polling station hasn’t been shut down– budget cuts have already reduced the number in town with warnings that more, last minute closures can be made.
Photo is by Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press via The Los Angeles Times