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Democrats decline to support three May ballot measures

April 26, 2009 |  5:46 pm

     Efforts by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders to win voter approval of six budget measures on the May 19 ballot grew more difficult Sunday when a sharply divided state Democratic Party declined to support three of them.
  The mixed verdict by more than 1,200 delegates to a state party convention in Sacramento came after a nasty floor fight over a grim menu of proposed solutions to California’s severe budget crisis.
 “We’ve got all kinds of divisions,” Art Pulaski, leader of the state AFL-CIO, said of the fractures within organized labor that drove the party’s internal rift. “It’s not unusual for us.”
 Republicans, too, are split on Propositions 1A through 1F. The state Republican Party has broken with standard-bearer Schwarzenegger and begun campaigning against the measures.
 Taken together, the muddled messages from California’s two major parties will probably fuel the sort of voter confusion that often spells doom for complicated ballot measures.
     The propositions stem from a Byzantine deal that lawmakers struck with Schwarzenegger in February to break the political impasse over closing a $42-billion budget shortfall that put California on the brink of insolvency.
    On Sunday, the Democrats rejected recommendations from their party’s legislative leaders to support Propositions 1A, 1D and 1E, staying neutral instead.
    Proposition 1A would create a state spending cap and rainy-day reserve while extending tax increases for two years; 1D would temporarily free up more than $600 million dedicated to children’s programs for other purposes; 1E would do the same with more than $225 million in mental health care money.
    “Help us get to the other side of this crisis,” state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) told fellow Democrats in urging support for Proposition 1A. “Help us to get to a place where we can reinvest in education and healthcare.”
 Willie L. Pelote Sr., political and legislative director of the California chapter of the American  Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, followed Steinberg by screaming across the vast convention hall that the party must “stand against Republican tyranny.”
“Proposition 1A is the most dangerous thing I’ve ever seen,” Pelote hollered.
    The party endorsed Propositions 1B, 1C and 1F. Proposition 1B, which would take effect only if 1A passes, would restore $9.3 billion in school cuts starting in 2011; 1C would borrow $5 billion against future lottery revenue to generate immediate revenue; and 1F would deny lawmakers and statewide elected officials pay raises in years when the state is running a deficit.

--Michael Finnegan in Sacramento