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Casinos want to add 17,000 slot machines

ElectionsPoliticsCasino and Gambling IndustryTravelTourism and LeisureCitizens Initiative and Recall

SACRAMENTO -- California voters will decide seven statewide ballot measures Feb. 5, including referendums on new state gambling compacts with four Southern California Indian tribes, an initiative that would change term limits for state lawmakers and a proposal to guarantee community college funding.

The most expensive and hotly contested campaign involves the four compacts, negotiated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and approved by the Legislature, that permit the tribes to more than double their slot machine holdings.

Opponents, including racetrack owners, a union and competing tribes, collected signatures to qualify referendums on the deals for the ballot so they would take effect only if voters upheld them. Normally, the state's deals with the tribes do not need voter approval.

Proposition 94 addresses new slot machines for the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians casino in Temecula, while Proposition 95 applies to the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, which has a casino along Interstate 10 near Banning.

Proposition 96 involves the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, with its casino near El Cajon in San Diego County, and Proposition 97 affects the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, which owns casinos in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage.

The four tribes already operate 8,000 slot machines. In exchange for 17,000 more, they have agreed to pay the state 15% to 25% of the profits from the additional machines. Proponents of the deals say the compacts could bring more than $9 billion to the California budget during the 23-year terms of the deals.

Supporters, including the four tribes, have contributed more than $82 million to a campaign with television advertisements featuring Schwarzenegger. In the ads, the governor says the revenue to the state from the compacts is important to help California with its budget problems.

"This is money urgently needed during this tough time for schools, public safety and many other essential services," said Julie Soderlund, a spokeswoman for the governor.

The opposition, including the United Auburn Indian Community and the Pala Band of Mission Indians, has raised nearly $32 million. Its television campaign argues that the revenue to the state is overestimated and that the deals do not ensure that the state gets its share of money. The ads say the compacts are unfair, providing too many slot machines to too few of California's 108 federally recognized tribes.

"Rather than a tide to lift all boats, this is a tidal wave that lifts four yachts, the four tribes," said Nick DeLuca, a spokesman for the "No" campaign.

Foes of the compacts also include the Hollywood Park and Bay Meadows racetracks, which hope eventually to end the tribes' exclusive right to run slot machines, and Unite Here, a union that represents hotel workers, which says the deals hinder efforts to organize casino workers.

Another contentious measure is Proposition 93, which would change California's term limits law. It was placed on the ballot by supporters of a group of state lawmakers. Schwarzenegger endorsed the initiative last week, saying it "would result in the people of California getting a more experienced, more independent Legislature."

Currently, legislators are limited to three terms totaling six years in the Assembly and two terms totaling eight years in the Senate.

Proposition 93 is a constitutional amendment that would reduce the overall number of years someone could serve in the Legislature from 14 to 12. But it would allow all of those years to be served in a single house.

If it is approved by voters, 34 sitting legislators who would otherwise have to leave office this year could run for reelection. They include Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland).

The measure was submitted to the state by a political consultant who works for Nuñez. She is heading the campaign, and the speaker has been a leading fundraiser for the effort.

Backers have raised about $9 million, much of it from interests with business before the Legislature.

Those interests include the AT&T Employees Political Action Committee, which contributed $150,000, and the California State Council of Service Employees Issues Committee, which gave $800,000 this month.

The California Teachers Assn. Issues Political Action Committee provided $500,000 a few weeks ago.

Opponents, spearheaded by Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, have raised $6.5 million. They say the "Yes" side misleads voters by implying that the measure tightens term limits even though it would permit lawmakers more time in one house.

"It's a self-serving power grab," Poizner said.

There has been relatively little public discussion of Proposition 92, which would reduce California's community college fee from $20 per unit to $15 and would limit future increases. Also a constitutional amendment, it would set a minimum level of state funding for community colleges that is $300 million more per year than the current level.

The decline in the fee would cost the state about $70 million annually, according to the nonpartisan legislative analyst's office.

Supporters of the measure, including the California Federation of Teachers, have raised $2.9 million, much of it from unions representing community college workers.

Opponents, including the California Teachers Assn., have collected about $1.7 million for the campaign to defeat the measure, arguing that it would hurt other state services.

"There is no way to pay for it," said Theresa Wheeler, a spokeswoman for opponents. "There is no guarantee the money will be spent to benefit students."

Eva Jackson, a Los Angeles Community College District student trustee who supports the proposition, countered: "This will provide even more Californians a chance to go to college."

The first initiative on the ballot, Proposition 91, has been abandoned by the labor and management leaders who put it there. They are urging a "no" vote because protection of state transportation funds was adopted in a ballot measure approved in 2006.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes

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