The votes, which mean the party will take a neutral position on the three ballot measures, come a little more than a week after state Republican Party officials voted to oppose all six of the budget measures on the ballot. The Democrats agreed today to back the remaining three: Prop. 1B, which provides $9.3 billion in new school funding, but only if Prop. 1A also passes; Prop. 1C, which allows the state to borrow up to $5 billion against future lottery revenue; and Prop. 1F, which blocks salary raises for government officials in budget deficit years.
Opponents of Prop. 1A called the vote a huge victory for the party’s grassroots, who were leery of supporting a cap on future state spending that they argued could hamstring efforts to provide additional money for education and social service programs even when the economy improved.
“Rank and file Democrats around the state decided this was a bad deal,” said Kenneth Burt, political director for the California Federation of Teachers. “Republicans have been pushing for state spending caps around the country and it made no sense for us to welcome one here when Democrats have been fighting them everywhere else.”
Supporters of the ballot measures did their best to spin the result, arguing that it was really good news that so many Democrats backed the propositions, even without an endorsement.
“Should 58 percent of California voters back Prop. 1A on election night, I’ll be wearing a huge smile,” said state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.
Budget Reform Now, an umbrella organization put together by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to back the six budget measures, quickly sent out a statement saying that the vote “showed that there is strong support for budget reform among Democrats and is a real win for this campaign.”
But the vote was a clear and public loss for backers of the budget measures, who pushed hard all weekend to get the needed support for the endorsements and still fell short. While 58 percent of the 1,300 voting delegates supported Prop. 1A, there was only a bare majority for Prop. 1D (52 percent) and Prop. 1E (50.1 percent) .
“We worked very hard and talked to a lot of people this weekend,” said Lillian Taiz of the California Faculty Association, one of the leaders of the “No on Prop. 1A” effort. “Now we have to concentrate on getting our message out to anyone who will listen.”
Throughout the three-day convention, there had been plenty of signs that Democrats were becoming steadily less enamored with both the budget measures and the deal with Schwarzenegger and GOP legislative leaders that put them on the ballot.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, for example, refused to say how she will vote in the special election, saying only that she and Sen. Dianne Feinstein would reveal their endorsements sometime in the future.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said over the weekend that he would “grudgingly” support Prop. 1A and Prop. 1B, which clears the way for schools to receive $9.3 billion in new funds, but not the others. Even former state Sen. John Burton, who was elected chair of the state Democratic Party on Saturday, refused to take a position on the ballot measures.
But on Sunday, Burton pleaded with delegates to not let the growing dispute over the ballot measures split the party.
“Whatever way the vote goes on the propositions, we can’t let it break up our solidarity of the Democratic Party,” he said in a speech before the voting.
That advice might have come too late. Two of the party’s biggest allies in the labor movement, the California Teachers Association and the public employee unions, already are at loggerheads, with the teacher’s group backing Prop. 1A and the worker unions opposed.
The harsh words flying on the convention floor also suggested a deep division that could take time to heal.
Passing Prop. 1A would cap school spending for years, argued Melinda Dart, a Daly City elementary school teacher.
“Stop the Republican power play,” she said. “Send the governor and the legislators back to draft a reasonable budget.”
But she got an immediate argument from Lynette Henley, a teacher in Vallejo.
“If you don’t support Props 1A to 1F, you are failing our children,” she said.
Opponents also argued that backing the ballot measures rewarded Republicans for holding up passage of a budget deal earlier this year.
“Prop. 1A was the ransom (Democratic legislative leaders) were forced to pay to the Republican minority,” said Taiz. “Prop. 1A flies in the face of core Democratic values and forces us to live the Republican dream.”
The opposition arguments were similar for Props. 1D and 1E. In each case opponents complained that party leaders were backing measures that would strip important services from people who desperately needed them.
Suicide prevention, mental health services, pre-school education and other services would fall by the wayside, they argued.
“We’re Democrats, we’re not for this,” said Susan Shannon of Los Angeles. “We need to send legislators back to the governor to say ‘no deal.'”
That’s not likely to happen, said state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. Steinberg helped put together the budget deal with the governor and a handful of Republicans and warns that it’s the best agreement that was politically possible.
“The numbers say very clearly that passage of these measures is vital,” he said after the vote. “The only good news about the budget is that we avoided economic catastrophe, but anyone who opposes this has a responsibility to stand up and say ‘Here is my alternative.'”