California voters trickle to polls to decide budget measures |

California voters trickle to polls to decide budget measures

LOS ANGELES ” Voters trickled to the polls Tuesday, with many saying they wanted to send a disgruntled message to Sacramento by rejecting most of a complex slate of budget measures intended to fill a widening state deficit.

Los Angeles voter Rex Bailey, 52, said he was tired of late state budgets and financial crises.

“I wanted to vote no on every proposition and send a signal to our politicians that they need to get it together,” Bailey said while voting at St. Mary of the Angels Anglican Church.

Joshua Mack, 31, also rejected the measures while voting at the church.

“The state’s in a colossal mess and these things aren’t the way to fix it,” he said.

The six propositions are a mixture of reforms, higher taxes, borrowing and funding shifts that will determine the severity of the coming year’s budget cuts. Some voters saw them as the only way to deal with the looming financial crisis.

The budget deficit is projected to hit $15.4 billion in the fiscal year that begins in July. And that’s if voters approve the ballot measures. If they don’t, the deficit will grow to $21.3 billion, according to a proposal released last week by the governor’s office.

At San Francisco City Hall, graphic designer Brynn Dirksen, 34, voted yes on every measure except 1C, which would authorize the state to borrow $5 billion and pay it back, with interest, from future lottery revenue.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing,” Dirksen said of the other measures.

Yvonne Frazier reluctantly cast her ballot for every measure but 1E, which would shift $227 million to the state general fund from a mental health fund created by Prop 63.

“I wasn’t real happy about it,” she said. “It’s vote out of desperation.”

The special election called in February has generated little interest among state residents.

Those who have been paying attention told pollsters they were likely to reject the propositions that were assembled by the governor and lawmakers as they sought to close what was then a $42 billion deficit over two years.

Turnout was light at many polls, including the Bunker Hill Towers condominiums in downtown Los Angeles.

Banker La Veria Baker, 42, said she was voting against all the measures except Proposition 1F, which would freeze the pay of lawmakers and elected officials when California is running a budget deficit. Polls showed it was the only one of the measures that appears to have enough support to pass.

Baker wants to see the budget balanced through cuts rather than higher taxes or borrowing from future state revenue. The only services that should not be cut are police, fire and hospitals, she said.

“Everything else, as far as I’m concerned, is on the table,” Baker said.

Baker was especially opposed to the state borrowing lottery funds.

“It’s like someone who wins the lottery and two or three years later, they’re broke again,” she said. Lawmakers “may fix the current ill, but by not going through the process of figuring out that it takes to be financially responsible, they never grow.”

Larry Irwin, 74, also voted in favor of Proposition 1F while rejecting all the other measures.

“Anybody who’s not doing their job shouldn’t get to be compensated for it,” said Irwin, a vice president of a textile distribution company. “I think we need to stop borrowing from the future.”

Ken Small, 59, an elder care consultant, agreed the state must stop spending money it doesn’t have.

“I think we’re all frustrated,” he said as he voted at an elementary school in Antelope, north of Sacramento. “This isn’t new. I don’t think we can solve it with instant tax hikes.”

Like many voters, Small said the ballot propositions were confusing.

The ballot also contains a pair of bonus races ” one to fill the Southern California congressional seat vacated by U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and another to fill the seat in a Los Angeles-area state Senate district.

That choice between bad options, confusion over what the propositions would do and voter frustration with politicians have set the stage for a potential landslide against the measures.

The most contentious measure, Proposition 1A, would create a state spending cap and rainy day fund, which Schwarzenegger has promoted as necessary to smooth out California’s budget cycles in the years ahead. But the measure also would extend income, sales and vehicle tax increases enacted earlier this year by one or two years, a provision that has stirred opposition from conservative groups.

Proposition 1B would restore more than $9 billion to schools.

Two other measures would shift hundreds of millions from children’s and mental health programs to the state’s general fund.

Psychotherapist Virginia Gilbert, 46, said her concern about the budget crisis in the state health care system brought her out to vote at St. Mary of the Angels Anglican Church.

“I work in an adolescent kids’ facility and I see what these cuts do to them,” she said.

Many of the low-income teens she works with would be homeless without the state’s help, she said.

Local election officials say they sense that California voters are simply burned out, especially after three statewide elections in 2008.

Despite generating apathy among many Californians and animosity among others, the special election will have immediate consequences no matter what happens.

If voters approve the propositions, spending cuts will be less severe but taxes will be raised by $16 billion.

If voters reject them, lawmakers will have to convene immediately and consider a range of cost-cutting options that could include shortening the school year by seven days, laying off thousands of state employees and eliminating health care services for tens of thousands of low-income children.

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