Special election continues to confound

This week, SEIU’s state council has opened a campaign account to oppose Proposition 1A, the measure backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that would keep taxes on the books for three extra years in exchange for limiting state spending in future years. But the union has not ruled out the possibility that they could give money to support a $5 billion lottery measure on the same ballot also supported by Schwarzenegger.

Confused? Welcome to the May 19 special election.

Polls show that five of the measures placed on the ballot by the Legislature and backed by Gov. Schwarzenegger face an uphill climb next month. Schwarzenegger’s political team has attempted to lump all of the measures together as one comprehensive budget package.

But many groups are picking and choosing which measures to support. While SEIU opened a committee against Proposition 1A this week, the state council has endorsed Proposition 1C, the lottery borrowing measure. And SEIU’s state director did not rule out the possibility that SEIU might give money to the Yes on 1C campaign.

“WE are a democractic organization that votes on those kinds of things,” said Courti Pugh, executive director for SEU California. “That’s something that would be a determination of our board.”

Formally, the governor’s committee is billed as a Yes on 1A and 1C committee. But there is another Yes on 1C committee, sponsored by GTECH and run by Democratic political consultant John Hein, which may be a place for other Proposition 1C supporters to give money.

The danger, of course, is that the messaging will be muddled. And with the ballot measures already finding a skeptical audience among potential voters, a lack of a clear message only makes matters more complicated.

“Complexity is the enemy of ballot measures, and this is complexity to the 50th power,” said Democratic strategist Darry Sragow. “It’s a real problem.”

Sragow said the best chance the measures have at passing is to lump them into one comprehensive campaign.

Voters don’t have a lot of information about this, and the only way they can begin to parse all this is to get a lot of information which takes a  lot of money that nobody’s willing to spend. “You have to say, ‘Vote yes on 1A-F to help solve our budget process.’ Mixed messages are very difficult.”

A strategist for the Yes on 1A-F campaign agreed.

“We’ve been working very closely with CTA,” said Adam Mendelsohn who is working for the governor’s campaign committee to pass Propositions 1A and 1C. “We have had discussions with committee that’s been formed to support 1C, although we’re not coordinating with them.”

Yes on 1C spokesman Roger Salazar said the lottery measure is important enough to merit its own campaign. “Our goal is to inform Californians about the benefits of modernization,” said Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the Yes on 1C committee.  “That’s what we’re focused on.”

The ballot measures are part of the budget deal negotiated by legislative leaders and Gov. Schwarzenegger in February. But that deal was a hard-fought compromise with plenty for members of both parties to dislike about the deal.

That makes the act of selling the plan to voters that much more complicated.

“In this compressed time frame you don’t really have time to articulate the merits of each measure and educate voters on them. It’s a comprehensive solution to the budget,” said Mendelsohn. “The ideal situation is everyone working together, and that’s what we’ve been trying to accomplish, but we can’t control that.”

Proposition 1A has also highlighted some long-simmering tensions between service employees and education groups. Both are major funders of Democratic causes, and comprise major portions of the state budget. But in these times of budget scarcity, education groups and health care and labor groups, represented by SEIU, often find themselves at odds.

On SEIU’s Web site explaining the union’s opposition to Proposition 1A, they write, “Education, debt payment, and infrastructure have first priority on spending from the Budget Stabilization Fund, any excess is restricted to one-time uses rather than to ongoing programs. That means less money will be available for the ongoing services SEIU members provide.”

The fight over Proposition 1A has divided organized labor for months. When legislators crafted the measures, they linked an $8 billion guarantee for schools, Proposition 1B, to the passage of the spending limit. If Proposition 1A fails, then Proposition 1B automatically fails as well, and schools will have to battle for that $8 billion in the Capitol, and possibly in the courts.

Linking school funding to the spending cap was intended to ensure the teachers’ union’s support for the spending limit, and it has worked. The California Teachers Association has dedicated millions to the May campaign.

Other unions have also had divisions over the spending limit proposal. The 179,000-member America Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, opposes the six ballot propositions, measures 1A through 1F, is calling the budget flawed and fiscally irresponsible.   

But the executive board of the 5,000-member AFSCME Local 2620 – its membership composed primarily of state employees – voted in Burbank to endorse the propositions, calling the initiative package “a crucial component of the state’s overall budget plan.”
The fractured messaging reflects some of the real divisions within organized labor, and other groups, over the ballot measures themselves. While SEIU is adamantly opposed to a spending cap, some in the organization argue that if the ballot measures fail, the larger hole in the budget will be filled with cuts to parts of the budget that will hit SEIU members the hardest.

And SEIU Local 1000 has negotiated a new contract with the Schwarzenegger administration that still needs the governor’s signature, a point that is not lost on labor leaders in the Capitol. The governor still must ratify Local 1000’s contract, and that gives the governor some political leverage over the union. Local 1000 officials are still optimistic that the contract will ultimately be ratified.

The measure has been placed into a bill, AB 964. The measure cleared the Assembly Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security Committee by a 4-2 vote this week, and may be heard on the Assembly floor as early as Thursday.

Local 1000 is the largest state employee union, representing more than 95,000 workers.

The service employees’ statewide position puts them at odds with Democratic leaders in both legislative houses, who are supporting Proposition 1A. Both Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, have expressed concerns about Proposition 1A, but are supporting the measure on the ballot.

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