Calif. governor on slippery slope

News Analysis

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger continued this week to lose ground on proposals he announced with great fanfare in January, while his poll numbers sagged further.

The governor’s original agenda focused on a constitutional amendment to cap spending across the board when state spending exceeded revenue. At the same time, Schwarzenegger stressed his commitment not to raise taxes. Other key proposals were merit pay and a longer tenure path for teachers, putting redistricting in the hands of retired judges instead of the Legislature, and the gutting of state regulatory boards and commissions. If the Legislature did not act, the governor said, he would call a special election in November to bring his agenda to voters in the form of initiatives.

Nearly four months later, he has yet to announce a special election, though he has until next month to do so. Some observers are saying that the $70 million-plus special election now looks risky for Schwarzenegger as he is forced to withdraw some measures and others fail to gain public support.

While Allan Zaremberg, co-chair of the corporate-sponsored Citizens to Save California, said his committee had begun to turn in signatures to put the spending cap on the ballot, signature gathering was said to be so slow that payments had risen to $5.50 or more per signature — up from an earlier $3.

The Public Policy Institute said only 43 percent of registered voters backed the measure. The same poll put Schwarzenegger’s approval rating at 40 percent, with just 28 percent approving his education policy.

Voters have also expressed outrage that the governor has reneged on his promise to restore $2 billion in education funding that was postponed last year, even though state revenues have risen sufficiently to do so. The budget Schwarzenegger is to release May 13 is expected to include modest gains for education.

Schwarzenegger has further alienated many voters by deriding teachers, nurses, firefighters, police and other public workers as “special interests” and trying to privatize their publicly run pension system at the same time he has raised millions from corporate sources.

Last month the governor was forced to postpone his pension privatization proposal, and last week Citizens to Save California said it did not have signatures enough to get the teachers’ merit pay measure on the ballot.

Labor and community coalitions, and legislative Democrats, have been quick to gain leverage from Schwarzenegger’s slippage.

In April, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) called for a tax hike to help fund education.

Meanwhile, the labor and community Alliance for a Better California is submitting signatures on initiatives for affordable prescription drugs and re-regulation of electricity, though a car buyers’ bill of rights has been withdrawn because passage of a compromise measure has been negotiated in the Legislature.

Most of Schwarzenegger’s plan to decimate state regulatory boards and commissions has also evaporated. Last week his administration said it is withdrawing a plan to reorganize the state’s environmental agency.