Calif. voters can change future, again

Twenty-five years ago, Californians decided that the time had come to make a dramatic change in the ominous direction that their state was headed.

In the late 1970s, the consequences of high inflation California’s real estate values forced property tax rates to escalate so rapidly that California was destined to become the most heavily taxed state in the nation. With the help of tax revolt leader Howard Jarvis, Proposition 13 qualified under California’s Initiative and Referendum system.

Proposition 13 enacted several features to make the real estate market more competitive by imposing a one percent cap on tax rates, adjusting property values to 1976 levels, limiting property tax increases and conducting annual reassessments only upon changes in ownership.

In 1978, Californian voters overwhelmingly backed Proposition 13. Homeowners paid lower property tax rates and could finally anticipate the maximum level of tax increases annually, eliminating uncertainty in the housing market.

Liberals, teachers’ unions and the press claimed Proposition 13 would deplete funding for public schools, yet state tax revenues as a share of incomes increased during the 1980s because of vast economic growth in California. Proposition 13 has saved the average property taxpayer tens of thousands of dollars and still remains popular.

Today, Californians are facing a remarkably similar crisis. An incredible hole exists in their state budget amounting to $38 billion, surpassing all other state deficits combined.

With the passage of contracts that have fastened astronomical energy rates for the next two decades, a 40 percent increase in state spending, and a tripling of the car tax, many Californians are not only angry that they were misled last year by Gov. Gray Davis, but they have become truly restless about their state’s future. Over 1.6 million Californians have signed recall petitions.

Last November, California Democrats captured control of every statewide office, but Republicans had one success story: the passage of Proposition 49, which the state party urged a yes vote on, providing additional funding for after school programs in public schools.

Proposition 49 would improve student performance and attendance, reduce crime and provide overall savings for taxpayers. Arnold Schwarzenegger led the campaign effort behind Proposition 49, which was approved by 3.5 million Californians.

Schwarzenegger has become the California Republicans’ best hope for winning the Governor’s office. Former Gov. Pete Wilson and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan have endorsed Schwarzenegger as have dozens of Republican legislators.

By all indications, Schwarzenegger would govern much like Wilson and Riordan.

He’s a fiscal conservative who believes in reducing taxes and regulations, relying on economic growth to strengthen public education, anti-crime measures, reforming workers’ compensation and environmental programs. On social issues, he’s in line with both men, which benefits him statewide.

Although Democrats enjoy a 10-point registration advantage over Republicans in California, this also existed when many statewide GOP candidates achieved great successes or near-victories. Republicans do well statewide if they are able to carry San Diego and Orange Counties, the Inland Empire, Central Valley and the Central and Northern Coast by strong enough margins to offset Democratic wins in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County.

Support from Republican-leaning demographic groups, women and moderates is critical and provided Wilson with his reelection victory in 1994.

Proposition 54, the Racial Privacy Initiative that will also be on the recall ballot, would eliminate most government documentation of race, ethnicity or national origin.

Growing Hispanic voting strength and representation means Republicans have to be cautious in supporting race-based initiatives, which weakened their standing among Hispanics.

Republicans should support moderate measures against illegal immigration, encourage assimilation in public schools and conduct an intense effort to court Hispanics.

In 1998, Mayor Riordan endorsed Proposition 227 because he witnessed how bilingual education programs in Los Angeles. left many non-English speaking children far behind other children in mainstream classes with graduates not being able to read, write, or speak English properly.

Proposition 227 required English to be taught immediately by providing an intensive English program, not normally exceeding one year, designed to improve test scores and reduce dropout rates among Hispanic students, a system similar to what every Western government uses and one which Republicans can safely encourage.

The recall effort has generated a powerful movement against Davis. His replacement on the ballot has largely been part of the problem and promises more of the same.

If Schwarzenegger can convince voters of both parties and independents that he shares their sentiments and frustrations, Californians will break the trend of bleak prospects and failed leadership in Sacramento.