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Schwarzenegger says illegal immigrants aren’t to blame for fiscal crisis

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Wednesday that the claim by some conservative activists that illegal immigration is to blame for all of the state’s fiscal problems is ignorant and bigoted.

The governor made his comments during a public forum at The Times building in downtown Los Angeles, where he expressed frustration with anti-tax organizations and others seeking to derail a package of ballot measures that will come before voters in a May 19 special election. Schwarzenegger and lawmakers placed the measures on the ballot as part of the budget agreement they reached in February.

“Anyone who says you have a budget crisis because of undocumented immigrants, I would say this is a prejudiced comment rather than reality,” the governor said, challenging a claim regularly made by opponents of his fiscal plans.

Most of the ballot measures, however, are trailing in the polls.

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If approved, they would put restraints on future state spending while extending the life of recently enacted tax increases on vehicles, retail sales and personal income from two to four years.

The propositions also authorize borrowing $5 billion from future lottery earnings and hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to services for the mentally ill and early childhood education. Additionally, they would freeze the pay of state elected officials when there is a deficit.

If voters reject the measures, the state’s budget shortfall would grow substantially.

The governor, whose low approval ratings have analysts questioning how effective a pitchman he will be for the measures, expressed confidence that they will prevail next month. Analysts are not counting the governor out. A well-financed opposition campaign has yet to emerge, and supporters of the measures have drawn endorsements -- and campaign cash -- from numerous influential groups, including the California Teachers Assn.

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Schwarzenegger derided opponents of the package -- on the political right and left -- as ideologues who seek to take the state “over the cliff.”

“If it were up to them, this state would come to an end because they would never agree on anything,” he said.

Schwarzenegger has been seeking to enact a cap on state spending since he first came to office.

Lawmakers rejected his first attempt, followed by rejection by voters in the 2005 special election.

The spending restraints are in place in several other states, creating rainy-day funds their governments have been able to dip into to blunt the impact of the economic downturn.

In response to a question about Californians getting a much smaller return on every dollar they pay in federal taxes than residents of many other states, the governor said: “I would say the California congressional delegation is less effective because Democrats and Republicans are not working together as well as in states like in Texas and in Florida.”

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evan.halper@latimes.com

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