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Big money moves to majority-vote budget fight in closing days of the election

November 1, 2010 | 11:50 am

While Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman are grabbing all the headlines in the closing days of the California election, a fight over a state budget procedure is attracting much of the money late in the race from interest groups in Sacramento.The real drama on election day may not be the outcome of the governor's race, but the fate of Proposition 25, the measure that would change the rules for passing the state budget.

If Proposition 25 is approved by voters Tuesday, state lawmakers will be able to pass a budget with a simple-majority vote instead of the two-thirds vote currently required. The fight over Proposition 25 has been a proxy war for the interest groups that routinely clash during the state's budget process.

Labor unions have spent more than $11 million to pass the measure. A coalition of business groups, led by Chevron Corp. along with alcohol and tobacco interests, have spent more than $17 million to try to defeat the measure. One day last week, more than $1 million was spent by Philip Morris, the California Chamber of Commerce and the state association of realtors against the measure. "Clearly these narrow but large special interests will do everything in their power to squash the best piece of budget reform we've had in years," said Richard Stapler, a spokesman for the Yes on 25 campaign. "Prop. 25 will help do away with the horse trading that goes on behind the scenes that goes onto pass the budget. That's really what these narrow interests want to keep in place."

No on 25 spokeswoman Beth Miller said that simply was not true. "I think Prop 25 is going to make it worse," Miller said. "Given that it affects any budget related bill, we will likely see more budget bills with more nefarious deals in them that we've ever seen before."

An e-mail from the No on 25 campaign last week placed increased importance on the measure's defeat because of a possible Brown victory Tuesday. "With solid Democrat majorities in both houses of the Legislature, and with Jerry Brown widening his lead in the governor’s race, small business owners, consumers and taxpayers have all the more reason to fear Prop. 25 and its majority vote tax increases," the e-mail stated. "It's really been our focus to talk about what we believe Prop. 25 would allow this Legislature to do," Miller said. "We have no doubt given the political leaders who are supporting Prop. 25 and the amount of union money that's flowed in behind it that this is about more than just passing a long-time budget. This is a power grab from Sacramento politicians and their supporters."

-- Anthony York in Sacramento