California's voters on Tuesday rejected a complex slate of ballot propositions designed to keep the state from sliding further toward fiscal calamity.
The only measure they approved in a statewide special election was Proposition 1F, which will prohibit raises to lawmakers and other state elected officials during deficit years.
Voters rejected at least four of the five other measures, including Proposition 1A, the centerpiece of efforts by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other state leaders to fix California's ongoing fiscal problems. It would have created a state spending cap while prolonging temporary tax increases and also strengthened the state's rainy day fund.
"Tonight we have heard from the voters and I respect the will of the people who are frustrated with the dysfunction in our budget system," Schwarzenegger said in a statement late Tuesday. "Now we must move forward from this point to begin to address our fiscal crisis with constructive solutions."
The failure of the measures means California's budget deficit will grow by nearly $6 billion above the current $15.4 billion deficit, forcing Schwarzenegger to make further cuts to state programs already facing major rollbacks.
"Obviously, it's disappointing," said Democratic Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, chairwoman of the Assembly Budget Committee. "But I think the voters are sending a message that they believe the budget is the job of the governor and Legislature. We probably need to go back and do our job."
Other measures voters rejected would have transferred $460 million over the next two years from mental health programs to help close the state deficit; redirected $1.7 billion from children's programs; and allowed $5 billion in borrowing from lottery revenue.
Proposition 1B, which would have restored more than $9 billion to schools, was trailing in early returns Tuesday but was effectively moot. Proposition 1A's defeat means that the measure cannot be approved even if voters approve it.
The special election ballot also included races for a congressional seat and a state Senate seat, both in Southern California. East of downtown Los Angeles, voters were deciding who would fill the seat vacated by U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, with two Democrats locked in a tight race.
The governor missed Election Day in California but cast a mail-in ballot before leaving for the nation's capital, where he joined a White House announcement on new vehicle fuel-efficiency standards.
Bracing for cuts
The Republican governor spent part of the day talking to members of California's congressional delegation, bracing them for the prospect of additional spending cuts if the propositions failed.
Laying off thousands of state employees, reducing the school year by seven days and cutting health care services for tens of thousands of low-income children are among the options. California will need a waiver from the federal government allowing it to make some of those cuts without jeopardizing money from the stimulus package.
Despite the doomsday predictions, California voters largely tuned out, illustrated by the trickle at polling places throughout the state. Local election officials projected that about a third of the state's 17.1 million registered voters would cast ballots, roughly half of whom were expected to do so through mail-in ballots.
Sentiment at polling stations throughout the state was a mix of anger toward politicians and resignation that the state would continue to face financial turmoil no matter the outcome of Tuesday's vote.
Schwarzenegger said last week that the state's deficit would be $15.4 billion in the coming fiscal year even if voters approved the propositions. It would grow by nearly $6 billion if they did not.
Yvonne Frazier decided to vote for every proposition except one that would transfer money from a fund dedicated to helping the mentally ill. The grant writer from San Francisco saw it as the only way to balance the state's budget.
"I wasn't real happy about it, but what are going to do?" she said. "It's a vote out of desperation."