Critics of the five budget-stabilizing measures passed by the Legislature and Gov. Schwarzenegger and placed on California's May 19 special-election ballot are right about a good many things. Before I get into why voters nonetheless should support most of the measures, let me repeat the legitimate gripes.
Proposition 1A caps spending, but also extends sales, vehicle and income tax hikes used to pass the current budget -- raising another $16 billion in taxes. The Big Five -- Schwarzenegger and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Assembly and Senate -- drafted summary language for the voter guide that does not clearly state that the spending-cap measure raises taxes.
A legislative spokesperson told me that Proposition 1A's summary doesn't mention tax increases because it "extends" this year's tax hikes -- the vehicle license fee and income tax increases for two years, as well as the extra one-cent sales tax for one year. That's a sorry way to whisper "trust us" to a disgruntled electorate.
My beef: Proposition 1A's spending cap reeks of budgeting gimmickry. It adds new formulas to a budget already shackled by too many old formulas. It's a new version of Sacto's favorite game, Move the Money Around.
Proposition 1B would require the state to make $9.3 billion in supplemental payments to K-12 schools and community colleges starting in 2011-12. Schwarzenegger and company exhort voters to go with all five budget measures in order to stabilize the budget. But unlike the other four measures, Proposition 1B can fail without requiring spending cuts or tax increases to make up the difference. It was a gift to the California teachers unions for supporting Proposition 1A.
If you are a voter who wants to send a message to Sacramento about curbing runaway spending, go ahead: Vote against it. Sacramento wants the money to go to schools anyway.
Proposition 1C, which borrows $5 billion in future lottery revenue, repeats the sort of money grab that makes it harder for lawmakers to balance future budgets. And it's hard to believe California communities will be better off if residents spend more money on the lottery.