Less than a year after the League of California Cities mobilized to pass an
initiative to protect local government budgets, the League is at the center
of a partisan tug of war that is likely to come to a head in San Francisco
this weekend. Gov. Schwarzenegger’s campaign is mounting a full-court press
to secure the League’s endorsement of Proposition 76 this week, and members
of the League’s board are threatening to quit if the organization sides with
Democrats’ efforts to block the endorsement have sent the governor’s team
into full campaign mode. Schwarzenegger himself is expected to address the
League’s convention in San Francisco today, and personally lobby for an
Team Schwarzenegger is scrambling to secure endorsements on all four of the
governor’s measures. On a recent conference call for donors and supporters,
the governor’s campaign team emphasized the importance of endorsements to
help build momentum for the governor’s initiatives. They noted that
endorsements from local officials have been pouring in for weeks, and they
are publicizing those endorsements this week to show the governor is turning
his political ship around.
"We’ve got [the counties], we’ve got the DAs," said Tom Campbell, the
finance director who is the Schwarzenegger team’s main spokesperson on Prop.
76. "If we have the League of Cities, it’s the full house. Those who don’t
get into the detail of these initiatives will be deciding based on who’s
behind it." Campbell said he will be in San Francisco "as needed" to help
line up votes and answer questions about the initiative.
Schwarzenegger political advisor Jeff Randle has also played a key role in
lining up the League’s endorsement for Prop. 76. The League is expected to
vote on the measure on Saturday, and early vote counters predict a
The Saturday vote will be the final act in a political drama that has played
out at the League for months. This summer, the League’s Revenue and Taxation
Committee overwhelmingly recommended that the League back Prop. 76. Last
month, the board voted to take no position on the measure, rejecting the
"This is pure power, partisan politics," says John Russo, a Prop. 76
opponent and a former League president who still sits on the board. "Unless
it’s crucial to our interest and bipartisan in nature, we shouldn’t get in
the middle of these kinds of fights."
But Campbell says Prop. 76 would have a profound impact on local government
budgets. The initiative would prohibit the Legislature from raiding the
locals’ transportation account and accelerate payments of state debts to
"It’s as big as Prop 1A" for local governments, says Campbell, referring to
the fiscal protection measure for local governments that voters
overwhelmingly approved in November 2004. "It protects the special funds
which the cities rely on. There’s pressure every year to take money from the
locals. Next year, the state faces a $7 billion deficit. The Legislature
will come after the cities’ [money], absolutely."
The measure is expected to come up for a vote on Saturday, the third time
the measure will be put before members of the League. First, the Rev and Tax
Committee voted to endorse the measure, only to have the League board vote
23-15 to remain neutral. That vote prompted Fresno Mayor and Schwarzenegger
ally Alan Autry to resign from the board, saying Democrats on the board were
the ones guilty of partisanship.
"I can’t in good conscience be a member of a board that is so blatantly
politically driven by special-interest groups," Autry told the Fresno Bee.
Autry and Hemet councilwoman Robin Lowe have been instrumental in pushing
the League to back Schwarzenegger, while incoming president Alex Padilla,
who like Russo is running for the Legislature next year, has been among
those urging the League to oppose or stay neutral on the measure.
Russo says backing the measure would be a "huge error," and if the league
does decide to formally back Prop. 76, he will likely resign from the board.
"I’d have to consider whether or not I want to be a part of the board in
that case," he said. "Personally, I think this is a really bad law. But more
importantly, the League doesn’t have a pony in this race."