Governor Calls Special Election, Irking Some State Workers, Teachers

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City News Service

LOS ANGELES, CA — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called a Nov. 8 special election today, asking voters to limit state spending and change the reapportionment and teacher tenure processes.

“In my State of the State speech in January, I said that if the Legislature did not act on the reforms this year, the people of California would,” Schwarzenegger said. “The people are the ones that wield the power. The people are the ones that can cut through the chains of politics and the past. It is from the people that a democracy gets its strength.”

Opponents say the special election will cost $70 million to $80 million. Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, a Republican like Schwarzenegger, has estimated the cost will be $44.7 million. Both figures are miniscule when compared to the entire state budget. Schwarzenegger has proposed a $115.7-billion budget for the 2005-2006 fiscal year.

“This election will cost the state about $1.25 for every Californian, but its reforms will fix our broken system, save the state billions of dollars and strengthen California’s future,” Schwarzenegger said. “Our broken state government will be modernized and revitalized and the people will be heard.”

Today was the deadline for Schwarzenegger to call a special election for Nov. 8. It will be held when some jurisdictions already have elections scheduled. The next regularly scheduled statewide election is June 2006. The special ballot will include Schwarzenegger-backed initiatives on redistricting, state spending — dubbed the “Live Within Our Means Act” — and lengthening the
period for teachers to receive tenure.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell called Schwarzenegger’s decision to call a special election “appalling.” Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget reforms would “eviscerate the promise of at least a minimum level of funding for public education as a result of voter approved Proposition 98,” O’Connell said.

The California Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, voted on Saturday to increase membership dues to raise about $50 million to fight Schwarzenegger’s initiatives.

However, some groups say the “Live Within Our Means Act” is exactly what the state needs for its economic future. “We believe strongly that fiscal responsibility can and should be among the highest priorities for our state’s legislators and that Californians deserve a better budget process,” according to a statement from the California Bankers Association. “Our current budgeting process costs taxpayers millions, delaying budget reform until next June would cost billions — the special election is a one- time cost which will eliminate these kinds of budget overruns in the future,” according to association.

The California Chamber of Commerce also supports the initiative. “Employers rely on a stable tax structure and the ability to plan and look at trends in areas where they locate or expand their businesses,” according to the chamber.

“We need to get California’s budget crisis under control.” Jon Coupal, president of the Los Angeles-based Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, praised Schwarzenegger for demonstrating “real courage standing up to the unions and standing up for the taxpayers who generously fund state government. For too long, our government has operated on auto-pilot spending and higher taxes,” Coupal said. “Governor Schwarzenegger’s ‘Live Within Our Means Act’ will protect taxpayers from shelling out for politicians’ overspending.”

Harvey Rosenfield, founder of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, has called for new legislation barring the governor from calling a special election unless there is a state emergency and legislative approval.

“Aside from the gross indulgence of spending scarce taxpayer money, this action reflects an insidious kind of self-dealing,” he said. “It is a grave abuse of power for a sitting governor to invoke his constitutional authority to call a special election when the only purpose of the election is the enactment of his own ballot measures.”

Three of the five California governors preceeding Schwarzenegger — Republicans Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson and Democrat Jerry Brown — called special elections to decide ballot measures.

California Controller Steve Westly agreed the cost of the election is “only the beginning of the problem.” “What we really can’t afford is a budget gimmick like the ‘Live Within Our Means Act’ that puts education and public safety at the mercy of partisanship,” he said. “We can’t afford a redistricting proposal that will never make it out of district court, and teacher tenure changes won’t fix our schools.”

Denise Millers, a teacher in the Sacramento-area Elk Grove Unified School District, said the measure to increase the time needed for teachers to receive tenure from two to five years ensures that “teachers who receive lifetime job protections have proven themselves and will deliver the best academic instruction.”

The reapportionment measure would take the process of drawing district lines for the Assembly, state Senate, the Board of Equalization and California’s delegation to the House of Representatives from the Legislature to a panel of retired judges.

“The current redistricting process promotes partisanship and denies millions of Californians a voice,” Assembly Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, said. “The governor’s redistricting proposal is about good government — taking power out of the hands of the politicians and giving it to the people.”

The special election also was criticized by the Service Employees International Union Local 1000, the Los Angeles Police Protective League and former Sen. Art Torres, who chairs the California Democratic Party. “This special election further burdens communities throughout this state that are already facing tremendous budget shortfalls,” Torres said. “The governor gives local governments no choice but to make further cuts to vital services that protect their communities.”

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