Opposition forms for state spending-cap Prop 1A

by John Wildermuth , San Francisco Chronicle

A coalition of strange bedfellows already is getting together to fight against Proposition 1A, the state spending-cap proposal that is the long-sought centerpiece of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget-reform effort.

Opposition to the measure on the May 19 ballot is emerging both from the Democrat-leaning left, which argues that the cap will hamstring already strapped social-service budgets, and Republicans and conservatives on the right, who complain that the cap opens the way to higher taxes.

"We don’t refer to it as a spending cap," said Jon Coupal, president of the anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "We refer to it as phony budget reform."

Added Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a nonprofit health care reform group: "The spending cap would keep us from ever meeting unserved needs."

Schwarzenegger already is on the road, stumping for the spending cap and five other budget-related measures on the special election ballot, measures that the governor said Thursday "are absolutely essential for both our short-term survival and our long-term prosperity."

The governor was joined not only by longtime supporters of a spending cap, but also by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who has opposed similar limits in the past.

But the legislative leader agreed to the new proposal to get the needed GOP support for the budget deal that closed the state’s $41 billion deficit. Part of Steinberg’s job now will be to rally support from Democrats or at least keep the party’s allies from campaigning against the spending cap.

That would be a big change from 2005, when education groups and labor unions raised better than $27 million to overwhelmingly defeat Schwarzenegger’s Proposition 76, which also called for a state spending cap.

So far, groups including the California Teachers Association and the SEIU, which represents thousands of state workers, aren’t backing the budget measure, but they aren’t coming out against it, either.

The teachers group isn’t expected to make a formal decision on its special election endorsements until mid-March, when its governing board meets. And while Courtni Pugh, executive director of the SEIU California State Council, said on the union’s Web site that the Prop. 1A spending cap "makes all the (budget) cuts permanent, guaranteeing that our schools, our health care and other services … will never recover," that doesn’t automatically translate into opposition to the measure.

Even some Democratic legislators haven’t been convinced the cap is a good idea. Berkeley state Sen. Loni Hancock opposes the cap and San Francisco state Sen. Leland Yee and Alameda Assemblyman Sandr