first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! SACRAMENTO – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is learning that getting a major program such as his $222 billion public works plan through the Legislature isn’t as simple as the “action, action, action” mantra he is fond of reciting. That’s particularly true during an election year and after his popularity nose-dived in 2005, when voters rejected all four of his initiatives during the November special election. Democrats and Republicans have criticized at least some parts of the plan, and administration officials concede it will face changes. “We know there will be dialogue (between the Legislature and governor) that will change the exact mix of priorities,” state Finance Director Mike Genest told a legislative committee recently. The Senate’s leader warns that if a deal isn’t struck soon, the Republican governor could be forced to run for re-election in November without being able to claim credit for beginning to solve the state’s backlog of public works projects. “If this doesn’t get done before the (June) primaries and before we start our budget negotiations, we will never get it done,” said Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland. Schwarzenegger wants to spend $222.6 billion over the next 10 years to expand highways and intercity rail, upgrade levees, build more schools, prisons, jails, courthouses and reservoirs, and undertake certain other public works projects. Funding for the plan includes selling $68 billion in state bonds, which need approval from lawmakers and voters. The governor wants the first of those bond measures to go on the ballot this June. The rest would be spread out on ballots through 2014. The deadline for lawmakers to add bond proposals to the June ballot is March 10. If they fail to meet that deadline, getting a measure on the November ballot could be tougher, given the political pressures as campaigns for governor, legislative seats and other state offices heat up. Enacting a plan to start addressing California’s long-neglected infrastructure needs could be key to Schwarzenegger’s re-election chances. A poll taken by the Public Policy Institute of California found that the governor’s weak approval ratings improved after he announced the plan last month in his State of the State address. “It’s in his best interest as a candidate to give voters something they’ve been clamoring for for years,” said Perata. “He needs this.” But so do Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature. Polls show lawmakers’ popularity is even lower than the governor’s, and Perata himself said 2005 was essentially a lost year legislatively. Democratic leaders want to show they can pass substantive legislation that helps the majority of Californians. When Schwarzenegger revealed his plan, he did so from a position that was much weaker than when he entered office in 2003. The next year, Schwarzenegger used his sky-high popularity and bipartisan appeal to push workers’ compensation reform through the Legislature and persuade voters to pass bonds that helped close a record budget deficit. His approval ratings have plunged since then, culminating in the rejection of all four of the measures he placed before votes in last November’s special election. He wanted to have more power over state spending, take redistricting duties away from the Legislature, lengthen the probationary period for new teachers and make it tougher for public employee unions to raise campaign contributions. Schwarzenegger’s poll numbers have improved somewhat since then. The Public Policy Institute survey found that his approval rating among likely voters had climbed from 38 percent to 45 percent since October. He also seems to be more flexible this time than he was in some previous negotiations with lawmakers. “The governor’s been fairly consistent since day one,” said Vince Sollitto, a Schwarzenegger spokesman. “He welcomes the Legislature’s involvement and input and understands there are other ideas that need to be considered in the art of reaching agreement and is optimistic that can be accomplished.” But Sollitto also said Schwarzenegger wanted to see a “long-term, comprehensive plan” approved. “Trying to do this piecemeal doesn’t provide the comprehension that’s needed,” he said. “But more importantly, it doesn’t provide the stability in funding that’s required for the type of projects needed to significantly reduce congestion …” Democrats aren’t eager to hand the Republican governor a major victory right before he runs for re-election, but they need do something to boost their own standing with voters, Perata said. “Our approval ratings are lower than the governor’s,” he said. “Together we would have a hard time getting elected most places in the world. If we can do something together, it will enhance his chances and ours.” But Democrats have staked out sharply different positions than the governor’s on financing for the public works plan and what the money should buy. They want bond money for parks, housing, port improvements, earthquake upgrades for hospitals and more money than Schwarzenegger is proposing for mass transit. They’ve also downplayed the need for new prisons, jails, courthouses and reservoirs. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nu!tildelown!ez, D-Los Angeles, said recently that a third of the bond money spent on transportation should go to light-rail, bus and other forms of public transit. Schwarzenegger, he said, was proposing less than $100 million for transit, compared to about $8 billion for highways and roads. Nunez also said recently that members of his caucus didn’t want to sell more than $30 billion in bonds – less than half the amount Schwarzenegger wants to sell. Nunez said debt payments on a larger bond package could consume money needed for schools. Democrats also criticize Schwarzenegger’s request for a constitutional amendment that would put a limit on annual bond debt payments. They say it could cripple the state’s ability to replace structures destroyed by a massive earthquake or other natural disaster. Republican lawmakers have their own proposals, including a pay-as-you-go constitutional amendment that would require the state to set aside a percentage of annual state budgets to pay for public works projects. That would reduce the need to sell bonds, they say. “We want to see efficiency. We want to see accountability,” said Assembly Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield. “Currently, in the (Democratic) proposals I don’t see all that. … If it’s not accountable to the public, I don’t see how we can go with it.” Perata has labeled the pay-as-you-go proposal a “nonstarter.” Other Democrats contend it could end up costing the state more than selling bonds. Lawmakers would need at least two Republican votes in the Senate and six in the Assembly to put together the two-thirds majorities required to place bond measures on the ballot. Nunez said drafting an infrastructure plan that could get those super majorities is a “tall order.” “It’s not going to be easy to negotiate this over the next three weeks,” he said. “(But) I am committed to getting this done, either in June or November.”last_img

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