And Now, The Special Election Pivot

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With no fanfare, the main campaign in support of the six budget measures on the May 19 ballot has pivoted to a media blitz focused on just two measures... the two with the most state budget money riding on them, and the two that are most valuable to the campaign's biggest donors.

Unlike press releases heralding earlier ads, there was no notification to the media that the Budget Reform Now campaign was launching a new ad, one featuring a firefighter warning of possible bad times ahead.

The ad, seen above, is a pitch solely in support of Proposition 1A and Proposition 1B. Even the longstanding logo of the campaign (used in the first TV ad pitching all six measures) has been replaced with a more focused graphic that says "Yes On 1A + 1B."

Campaign spokesperson Julie Soderlund says the new ad is the result of a "strategic decision" to talk about these two measures, and that the omnibus campaign is working with supporters of Proposition 1C, who would then pick up the ball on that measure. Soderlund also says that other parts of the omnibus campaign team's efforts remain focused on all six measures. "TV is just one way we're reaching voters," she says.

Now to the substance, delivered by a firefighter identified as Capt. Chris Judd of the L.A. County Fire Department.

"Without Props 1A and 1B," says Judd (with just the perfect amount of soot dabbed on his forehead), "we have $16 billion in new [state budget] cuts coming."

That's a reasonable claim about Prop 1A, which extends a package of tax increases agreed to by the Legislature and Governor Schwarzenegger. But it's a misleading claim about Prop 1B; on the contrary, that measure would ostensibly spend some of the tax revenues brought in by passage of Prop 1A.

As we've reported, Prop 1B is a $9 billion payment to public schools on top of what they're already expecting over the next few years. So how does passage of Prop 1B help avoid budget cuts?

Only in the final sentence of the TV ad does Judd alude to a purported benefit of Prop 1B: helping "get California back on track." Presumably, that includes more money for K-12 education and community colleges.

Campaign spokesperson Soderlund says Prop 1B is the only way to provide money for schools after budgets were cut this year. "There will be even more [school budget] damage if 1B doesn't pass," she said.

Still, the new TV ad feels like a major pivot in the campaign led by Governor Schwarzenegger and his allies, towards the two measures on which they're most focused. Business interests like the Prop 1A spending restraint and reserve fund; the California Teachers Association likes Prop 1B's extra money for schools. And it's no coincidence that those groups are also the biggest money players in the May 19 special election campaign.

Most observers would guess that the pivot is, in part, a realization that polling shows almost all of the measures on the ropes... and that, if nothing else, Props 1A and 1B need to pass for the campaign's financial backers to be able to declare victory. Ironically, any shift away from the other three budget measures -- Propositions 1C, 1D, and 1E -- is also a shift away from a balanced state budget in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

After all, those three measures account for about $6 billion in revenues that have already been scored to help balance the books. Their defeat would instantly deepen the fiscal hole lawmakers will have to crawl out of later this year.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new California Politics & Government Desk. He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades, serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and most recently as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. In 2014, he was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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