California’s $21.3 billion hangover

It’s the morning after, and despite abyssmally low special-election voter turnout — the Secretary of State’s office has it pegged right now at 22.9 percent, although there are mail-in ballots yet to be counted — the post-special-election rhetoric is flying hot and heavy.

Conservatives are convinced the ballot measures’ drubbing means Californians are fed up with tax hikes and want deep spending cuts.

Liberals are convinced the low turnout means voters want the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to raise more revenue for the state, even if that means pushing another ballot measure to do away with the requirement that tax and budget bills receive two-thirds approval from both legislative houses.

And, heck, marijuana advocates believe the election results mean it’s time to legalize and tax the drug.

I think it means California is going to spend a lot of time arguing about what it means. What do you think it means?

Ten pounds of rhetorical excrement in a five-pound bag, in no particular order, after the jump…

Attorney General candidate and Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, D-Newark:

“The voters have spoken and the message is clear – solve the problems you were elected to fix and don’t expect the voters to do the job for you.

“After many years of partial solutions, delays and gimmicks, these results mean we must forge a new path that will require strength, resolve and a lot of hard work.

“The depth of the problem is so great we are going to have to start evaluating our budget from top to bottom and prioritize what services we need – what are the essential services and how do we pay for them.

“Resolving this budget deficit will require a lot of shared sacrifice because some painful cuts will be necessary. We can not continue a business as usual approach. If more cuts are made to essential services, than we cannot justify keeping all existing boards and commissions. We need to prioritize our investments in those areas Californians value most like education, health care and public safety.

“We have difficult days, weeks, maybe even months ahead and we should do what we can to assist those who are struggling the most in these tough economic times.”

State Senate Republican Leader Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta:

“With this election, the people of California have sent a clear message to Sacramento. They know that their government has failed them. They have lost confidence in government to fix the budget or the problems they face every day.”

“Senate Republicans have heard the voter’s message and are committed to overhauling and reforming that system to make it work for them again. We will be unveiling solutions to end the cycle of permanent budget crises, make government work efficiently, help create new jobs, and change the self-serving culture in Sacramento.”

Courage Campaign Chairman Rick Jacobs:

“This election wasn’t about taxes, despite what the right-wing noise machine wants you to believe. The reality is that Californians rejected a broken government — the failed system that forces our state legislators to call special elections in the first place.

“The legislature cannot do its job because unlike 47 other states, it cannot make budget decisions by a majority vote. As a result of the ridiculous 2/3rds requirement for passing a budget, a small cabal of right-wing Republicans hold California’s budget hostage year after year after year.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger:

“Tonight we have heard from the voters and I respect the will of the people who are frustrated with the dysfunction in our budget system. Now we must move forward from this point to begin to address our fiscal crisis with constructive solutions. We face a staggering $21.3 billion deficit and in order to prevent a fiscal disaster, Democrats and Republicans must collaborate and work together to address this shortfall. The longer we wait the worse the problem becomes and the more limited our choices will be. That is why tomorrow, we will come together to begin to develop a budget solution that gets our state back on track.

“We must also continue to fight for real, comprehensive budget reform that brings stability to California’s budget process and forces the state to save in the good times so that we do not face these kinds of deep deficits, devastating cuts and tax increases when the economy takes a downturn. I have been working to accomplish this kind of reform since I was elected in 2003 and I will keep working toward it because we cannot allow this harmful and out-of-control budget process to continue.”

AFSCME International Assistant Director of Political Action Willie L. Pelote, Sr.:

“Tonight’s results sent a message from the people of California that the Governor and the legislature must stop passing the buck and do the job they were elected to do. It’s time for the governor and legislative leadership to put the same level of enthusiasm and effort into finding real solutions for California’s budget problems as they did trying to convince voters to vote for a flawed and confusing Prop. 1A.”

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento:

“The voters have spoken and they are telling us that government should do the best it can with the money it has. We will immediately and responsibly get to work to balance the budget and head off a cash crisis in July. Delay is not an option. The necessary decisions we must make will only get harder with time.”

California Federation of Teachers President Marty Hittelman:

“Now that these flawed and unworkable reform proposals have been voted down, the governor and legislative leaders must put aside the campaign rhetoric and work to craft real budget solutions with adequate revenue to solve our problems and put California back on track.”

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles:

“There are many difficult choices and a lot of hard work ahead of us. We now have to responsibly fill the budget hole that has been caused by the national recession and deepened by the failure of today’s ballot propositions. I hope the bipartisan cooperation between the Legislature and the Governor that went into this effort will continue as we move forward – the people of California clearly expect us to work together to get the job done. And we will. I do want to thank tonight the teachers, firefighters, business leaders and other Californians who worked in support of these propositions in hopes of warding off more devastating cuts to vital services. Their commitment to a better California should be appreciated by everyone on both sides of these initiatives.”

Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines, R-Fresno:

“My goal in placing these initiatives on the ballot was to start to get our budget under control and help California begin to live within its means. Even though voters did not support our approach, I believe it is clear from this election that voters want the Governor and the legislature to achieve both those goals. The biggest mistake we could make in the aftermath of this election is not enacting serious reform.

“California has a big problem moving forward. We need a spending cap now more than ever, and only through spending reform and reductions will we be able to get California back on track. I believe California can emerge from this crisis fiscally sound and strong, but there is a long and difficult road ahead.”

State Senator Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto:

“California voters may have sent state leaders back to the drawing board, but it’s not a mandate to abandon reform. Until we break this circle of dysfunction, California will be plagued with chronic budget deficits. Ensuring government lives within its means is the only way to prevent the boom-bust cycle that keeps repeating itself.”

California Primary Care Association President and CEO Carmela Castellano-Garcia:

“The failure of tonight’s Special Election initiatives means that Californians are tired of being asked to make the tough decisions that are supposed to be made by our elected leaders in Sacramento.”

“I know that some lawmakers will use the failure of tonight’s initiatives as an excuse to make even deeper cuts to many of our state’s key public programs.”

“On behalf of California ‘s 800 community clinics and health centers and the over 4 million patients they serve each year, I urge the Governor and Legislature to recognize the importance of the safety net during this unprecedented economic crisis, and to keep health care intact.”

“California’s budget problems cannot be solved solely through cuts, cost shifting, or money-borrowing. Sacramento lawmakers need to find more permanent and sustainable solutions to the fiscal crisis before us.”

California Chamber of Commerce President Allan Zaremberg:

“The message from voters to Sacramento on Tuesday was loud and clear: No additional taxes. Voters expect our elected officials to do their job and bring expenditures into line with existing revenues. Legislators must govern in a responsible manner and exercise fiscal discipline. There can be no more business as usual.

“The number one issue for voters is jobs and the economy. It is about time that became the same priority for our elected officials. The only way we will grow revenues is through a robust economy. More regulations, mandates, and increased costs on employers will kill more jobs. Sacramento must make rebuilding California’s economy job one.”

Peace Officers Research Association of California President Ron Cottingham:

“The results tonight show that voters are rightfully frustrated, but for the sake of public safety in this state we must act quickly to move forward from here to address this state’s serious fiscal crisis. We know that with a $20 billion budget deficit the cuts are coming and we are committed to working with the Governor and the Legislature to find a solution while also ensuring funding for public safety is protected.”

AARP California President Jeannine English:

“It is important that we all move forward from tonight with a renewed commitment to work together to address California’s serious budget problems. The deficit we face means more cuts to important healthcare and other programs that many Californians rely on. These cuts will be devastating and we look forward to working with the Governor and Legislature to do everything possible to ease the impact of this budget crisis on the most vulnerable among us.”

Califorina Alliance for Jobs Executive Director Jim Earp:

“While this election made clear that voters are upset about the current state of affairs in Sacramento, it is crucial that we put politics aside and act quickly to address this crisis. If we do not, the state will find itself right back where we were just a few months ago when infrastructure projects, and the thousands of jobs that go with them, were one day from shutting down. In this economic environment we simply cannot let that happen and that is why the California Alliance for Jobs is dedicated to working with our leaders in Sacramento to find resolution to this budget crisis.”

California Professional Firefighters President Lou Paulson:

“We’re obviously disappointed with tonight’s election results, and especially with the extraordinarily low voter turnout.

“The voters’ cynicism is understandable. These propositions were nobody’s first choice. But the math is inescapable. Today’s results will make it harder to protect vital local fire and police services. Fire stations will close. Police officers will be laid off. Public safety will be affected.

“No matter what happened this evening, California’s fiscal crisis was going to force some excruciating choices for policy makers. Tonight’s election results dramatically complicate that task.

“Firefighters across California are working with their local governing agencies to minimize the impact of the fiscal crisis on vital public services. We remain committed to fixing California’s broken fiscal system without compromising government’s core responsibility to protect the safety of the citizens we serve.”

Insurance Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner:

“The people of California have spoken loud and clear today. It’s time for Sacramento to finally listen to that message. The voters are now strongly on record against the deeply flawed budget package crafted by the Governor and the Legislature. They have soundly rejected the $16 billion in higher income, sales and car taxes contained in Proposition 1A.

“The voters want change and fundamental reform – not more spending, more taxes, more borrowing and more fiscal gimmicks. California state government can’t afford any more gimmicks – it’s long past time to modernize, economize, reduce and reform.

“This election wasn’t a case of the “Yes” side not getting its message out. It was quite the contrary. The “Yes” side outspent the “No” side dramatically. If that wasn’t enough, the legislature also stacked the deck by writing the ballot arguments and skewing them toward the “Yes” side.

“Today’s outcome is a clear referendum on what the Governor and legislature have – and have not – done on the electorate’s behalf. Californians know that the state has huge budget and policy problems. Yet armed with this knowledge, they defeated the so-called “solution.” The electorate clearly wants the Governor and legislature to go back to the drawing board and do it right. The Governor and legislature have repeatedly failed to do so – and that’s why we have a mess. Not only does the public deserve better – they know that they deserve better. And by rejecting the Special Election, they told Sacramento to go back and do it again.

“The voters have sent a message: enough is enough. The Sacramento political establishment ignores that message at their own peril. It’s time for all candidates for Governor to break from the failed policies and arrogance of that establishment.

“Just as Sacramento refused to face reality long ago, my opponent, Meg Whitman, has refused to debate the solutions for California ’s disaster. You can’t buy solutions to California ’s crisis on Ebay. California Republicans – and all voters – are angry, frustrated and looking for leadership and experience. That is why I seeking the governorship on a platform of bringing major reform and a commitment to the fundamental restructuring of state government to the Governor’s office.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman:

“The voters have spoken in California’s Special Election, defeating Propositions 1A, 1B and 1C. They understand that the state is facing a $21 billion deficit and are worried about the state’s ability to provide critical public services. But the fact is, right now, Californians do not trust Sacramento or the political process by which the budget is crafted, and they cannot afford higher taxes.

“State leaders now have an opportunity to rebuild trust by listening to Californians and changing how they operate. I am hopeful that the governor and legislative leaders will respond to this challenge with a renewed commitment to making government more efficient, more effective and more responsive. Like businesses and families across the state and around our country, California’s government too must prioritize and spend every dollar wisely.

“Californians have a government they cannot afford. It will not be easy, but we must shrink the bureaucracy. We also must act to improve California’s economic competitiveness so that businesses large and small can once again add jobs and put people back to work. Private-sector prosperity is the only way we can generate the public-sector revenues necessary to invest in schools, infrastructure and essential services.

“Sacramento politicians must learn from today’s election so that California never again faces this kind of crisis.”

Marijuana Policy Project California policy director Aaron Smith:

“It’s clear that voters didn’t like the solutions put forth by the legislature on last night’s ballot. But a Field poll last month showed solid support for making marijuana a legal, regulated product and making producers and sellers pay taxes that they now avoid. For the legislature to leave marijuana untaxed even as our state faces catastrophic cuts to schools, transportation, public safety and other critical services borders on the criminal.”

“Now that it seems we’ve hit the end of the road in the search for solving California’s budget mess, we need to be looking outside the box. Replacing the failed policy of marijuana prohibition with a system of regulation and taxation would not only be sound public policy, but it also looks a lot more politically popular than anything else being offered up by Sacramento right now.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    Thank God for the 2/3 requirement. It is the only thing standing between us and even more out-of- control spending. The dear dimmiecrats never met a “revenue enhancement” they didn’t like.

    The state does not have a revenue shortfall, it has an overspending addiction. Our state taxes are already the highest in the nation.

    The legislature needs to realize that government cannot be all things to all people. Just like you and me, they must cut spending to match the available revenue.

  • Ulno

    How about just _one_ story about the lucrative retirements that are given to public employees? Being able to retire at age 55, and getting 30+ years of your final year’s pay essentially doubles your salary.

    Since we are talking about public employees, this information is all public record. In Hayward alone, there are 37 retired public workers that make more than $100k a year in pensions.

    Check out http://californiapensionreform.com and look at City of Hayward workers. (Hayward Area Rec District is also listed). You’ll see names from city workers that will be very familiar:

    CRAIG CALHOUN 13,263.66 159,163.92 HAYWARD
    RAUL VALDIVIA 12,912.78 154,953.36 HAYWARD
    PAUL VALENCIA 12,473.87 149,686.44 HAYWARD
    LARRY ARFSTEN 12,470.51 149,646.12 HAYWARD
    MICHAEL HYDE 12,463.48 149,561.76 HAYWARD
    STEVEN MONTEVAGO 11,056.24 132,674.88 HAYWARD
    DEAN MONTEVAGO 10,953.54 131,442.48 HAYWARD
    DENNIS HOUGHTELLING 10,849.03 130,188.36 HAYWARD
    DENNIS BUTLER 10,681.02 128,172.24 HAYWARD
    JESUS ARMAS 10,655.25 127,863.00 HAYWARD
    MANUEL SILVA 10,631.18 127,574.16 HAYWARD
    SYLVIA EHRENTHAL 10,535.58 126,426.96 HAYWARD
    GARY BRANSON 10,490.24 125,882.88 HAYWARD
    LLOYD MYERS 9,974.05 119,688.60 HAYWARD
    WESLEY ASMUSSEN 9,970.05 119,640.60 HAYWARD AREA RE
    MICHAEL O’TOOLE 9,902.85 118,834.20 HAYWARD
    STEVEN FAELZ 9,618.13 115,417.56 HAYWARD
    JOHN BOYKIN 9,428.62 113,143.44 HAYWARD
    GERARD DINNEEN 9,237.52 110,850.24 HAYWARD
    RICHARD ALLEN 8,925.82 107,109.84 HAYWARD
    WILLIAM SHIRLEY 8,837.10 106,045.20 HAYWARD
    PAUL WALLACE 8,798.81 105,585.72 HAYWARD
    DYANA ANDERLY 8,741.05 104,892.60 HAYWARD
    ARTHUR WYDLER 8,618.90 103,426.80 HAYWARD
    MART HOOVER 8,608.17 103,298.04 HAYWARD
    JOHN KIESTER 8,605.40 103,264.80 HAYWARD
    JAYME SOUZA 8,567.32 102,807.84 HAYWARD
    MEL LAWRENCE 8,543.24 102,518.88 HAYWARD
    GARY VOTTO 8,538.92 102,467.04 HAYWARD
    JAMES SANTISTEBAN 8,513.10 102,157.20 HAYWARD
    DOUGLAS MOON 8,489.02 101,868.24 HAYWARD
    CHARLES HEITZ 8,486.85 101,842.20 HAYWARD
    KENNETH GROSS 8,476.88 101,722.56 HAYWARD
    RICKEY PARKER 8,445.37 101,344.44 HAYWARD
    STEPHEN AKACSOS 8,424.16 101,089.92 HAYWARD
    ROGER POWER 8,334.69 100,016.28 HAYWARD

    How about the 10 from Union City:

    RANDAL ULIBARRI 15,286.79 183,441.48 UNION CITY
    ARCHIE TERRY 11,534.97 138,419.64 UNION CITY
    ALBERT GUZMAN 11,359.87 136,318.44 UNION CITY
    RODNEY ROMANO 11,224.97 134,699.64 UNION CITY
    DONALD SCHUITEMAKER 10,870.98 130,451.76 UNION CITY
    KENNETH HOKANSON 10,112.78 121,353.36 UNION CITY
    MICHAEL SOUZA 9,670.26 116,043.12 UNION CITY
    VALERIE CRAWFORD 9,481.28 113,775.36 UNION CITY
    BRUCE HARTER 9,312.75 111,753.00 UNION CITY
    MICHAEL SHELTON 8,936.67 107,240.04 UNION CITY

    57 year old former Union City Police Chief is making $183k a year in pension payouts.

    If you want to check out the rest of the states public employee pension payments, you’ll find 5115 employees making more than $100k in pensions.

    This doesn’t even count complete health care coverage for themselves and their families.

    And they get to retire at age 55.

    Gravy train.

    And we are the slaves out front pulling that train.

  • John W

    I’m a socially liberal, fiscally minded Democrat. But I thought Tom McClintock made an interesting point on KGO radio this morning. He pointed out that, a generation ago, we spent less money on an inflation and population adjusted basis and managed to have great roads, free university education and public schools that the rest of the country envied. So, I think that people are (1) ticked that Sacramento can’t get it’s budget and priority-setting act together(even though we have made it very difficult for them with the 2/3 requirement and a history of ballot box budgeting); and (2) wondering why we tax and spend so much and still don’t manage to get basic things done. Although it is very difficult to get good data, I’m not sure that the basket of services CA state government provides through the general fund (education, health & welfare and corrections) is very different from other states that don’t seem to have these problems, at least not in a normal economy.

  • John W


    Re: retiree benefits — Dan Borenstein writes excellent columns nearly every week on this subject in the Contra Costa Times. The newspaper has published numerous letters from those of us who share the concerns he has raised, as well as letters from people who have a different viewpoint.

  • jon k

    Ulno, you are absolutely correct. Spending is out of control and the unions run this state, just look at who has all the money to run the TV ads for and against ballot props. Why does no one ask for a 10% to 20% wage cut to all state workers, like the private sector and small businesses are dealing with? Perhaps %10 on people making less than 75K a year, 15% up to 150K and 20% over 200K?

  • Ulno

    Jon, the media is completely one-sided on this issue.

    Checkout the newspaper headlines about how these cuts are causing nothing but pain for Californians. That’s exactly the opposite of the truth: these cuts are wonderful relief for the nearly 40 million Californians who won’t be taxed into oblivion by parasitic government employees.

    The news media see their job as cheerleaders for big government.