Props Fail, State Taps Local Government?

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The 'Plan B' scenarios if the special election measures are defeated continue to trickle out of the administration of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. This afternoon, a new one: the governor is prepared to propose a $2 billion suspension of the 2004 constitutional initiative protecting city and county revenues.

Talk of suspending 2004's Proposition 1A comes on the heels of a meeting yesterday where Schwarzenegger aides told the firefighting community that voters rejecting the measures on the ballot in two weeks time would result in as many as 1,700 firefighting positions.

One local government official on this afternoon's call said the plan would be to borrow as much from local governments as Prop 1A allows -- 8% of property tax revenues in the 2008-09 fiscal year, estimated at $2 billion. An aide to the governor confirms the proposal was discussed.

That borrowing would not be easy... or cheap.

The five-year-old constitutional amendment, championed by Schwarzenegger, requires that the money be repaid with interest within three years. It also would require a supermajority vote of the Legislature.

Word of such a plan comes almost five years to the day that Schwarzenegger struck a deal with cities and counties for help back then, in exchange for Prop 1A.

"We have to get our act together as a state," said the governor on May 12, 2004, "rather than always looking to the counties and to the cities and take money away from them."

The suspension of 2004's Prop 1A has apparently been in the works for a while. Earlier this afternoon, I asked the budget campaign team for documentation supporting their new TV ad's assertion that "24,000 firefighters and police" could get laid off if the measures fail.

The document that I received referenced the Prop 1A suspension, and was sent to me before word of the proposal was confirmed by both those on today's call and the Schwarzenegger administration.

All of this is leading to a fairly intense debate as to whether the governor and his team are fairly, or unfairly, predicting dire consequences should the ballot measures fail.

(A clarification: only Propositions 1C, 1D, and 1E include money being counted on for 2009-2010. The extra tax increases attached to Proposition 1A are still another two years away.)

Whether these private meetings with interest groups like firefighters and local officials are prudent planning... or part of a last minute effort to push unhappy voters into acceptance of the ballot propositions... is the subject of some debate.

Representatives of two separate opposition campaigns have called these news reports, coupled with the dire predictions in the TV ad mentioned above, "scare tactics."

The governor took exception to that in an event with firefighters this morning.

"I think that we owe it to the people of California," he told reporters, "to tell them what the consequences are, so they know. And then they still have a choice to vote yes or no on those [measures]."

And the governor said it wasn't just public safety that would be hit hard, as you can hear for yourself below:

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Aides to Schwarzenegger say critics of the measures need to be specific about where they would find the money to solve the state's budget woes.

All of this only confirms the tension that you can slowly feel start to build around the state Capitol... not just about the May 19 election, but about what happens on May 20.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia 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. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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