When Californians walk into voting booths Tuesday with their ears still ringing from a barrage of ads for billionaire Republican Meg Whitman, Democratic icon Jerry Brown and a host of other well-funded candidates and campaigns, it might be tough to focus on a ballot measure asking them to referee a financial feud between state and local politicians.
Nevertheless, that’s what supporters of Proposition 22 are hoping they will do. A yes vote would prohibit the governor and the Legislature from delaying disbursement of money meant for local public services, local transit agencies and redevelopment projects as they scramble to plug holes in the state budget.
The measure is being pushed by the League of California Cities, which is still smarting from Sacramento’s borrowing of $1.9 billion from local property taxes, $1.7 billion from redevelopment projects and $1 billion from local transit agencies to help balance the 2009-2010 state budget. The moves put a strain on local coffers and caused some transportation agencies to raise fares and reduce services, said Chris McKenzie, the league’s executive director.
While such projects are dear to the hearts of local politicians, there’s no guarantee that the specter of delayed funding for bus routes and inner city development projects will spark enough ire among California’s electorate to pass the measure. The sales job may also be complicated by the recent scandal in Bell, which focused public attention on corruption and mismanagement in local government.
Supporters are enlisting the help of local emergency service officers, whose credibility remains high. Santa Fe Springs Fire Chief Alex Rodriguez said public safety could be put at risk if cities take money from police and fire budgets to fill gaps.
While many local police and firefighting agencies have endorsed Proposition 22, few have provided much money to the yes campaign, state campaign finance records show.
Of the nearly $4.4 million raised to support the measure, almost $2.5 million has come from the League of California Cities. Other big contributions have come from the construction industry and unionized transit workers. The statewide police lobbying group, Peace Officers Research Assn. of California, had given $50,000.
Ultimately, Proposition 22 supporters hope voters will side with the politicians they trust most — or distrust least.
“Most people don’t know who their state legislator is,” McKenzie said. “I am cautiously optimistic it’s going pass.”
Opponents argue that a law protecting local budgets would put an even greater burden for absorbing spending cuts on state-financed public education, emergency services and health programs.
The California Professional Firefighters, which represents the state agency that fights wildfires as well as many local departments, and the politically powerful California Teachers Assn. are leading the opposition. More than 30,000 teachers have been laid off during the last two years as the state budget was cut, said Frank Wells, spokesman for the teachers group.
“We’re all fighting for our share of the same limited pie,” Wells said.
He added that delaying money for local infrastructure projects is a problem, but said it does less harm than cutting education.
“It’s not like you can say to a second-grader, ‘Hey, come back in a couple of years and then I’ll teach you to read.’ ”