California voters followed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s lead Tuesday and approved $15 billion in state bonds to stave off the state’s economic shortfall.
With 95 percent of precincts reporting as of 4:00 a.m., the Prop 57 bond measure passed with 62.9 percent voter approval, giving the governor more political influence in the Democrat-controlled state legislature. Prop 58, which limits future state borrowing and creates a rainy day fund, overwhelmingly won favor among voters with 70.7 percent. Both measures had to be approved for either to take effect.
“Californians have gone to the polls and flexed their muscles and let their voices be heard,” Schwarzenegger said in his victory speech in Santa Monica. “California is back on track.”
The passage of Prop 57 was seen by many as a test of Schwarzenegger’s ability to persuade the electorate. A month ago, barely a third of likely voters said they would vote in favor of the measure. Schwarzenegger helped raise $10 million for a recent advertising campaign in which he appeared with prominent Democratic and Republican politicians who supported the two measures. It is only the second time in recent state history that voters approved a ballot measure that trailed in early polls.
“We’re talking political steroids,” Claremont McKenna College government professor Jack Pitney said. “He can claim credit for turning around public opinion.”
Another measure on the ballot, Prop 55, was too close to call at press time, with 50.7 percent in favor and 49.3 percent against. The proposition allows for $12 billion in bonds to be sold and the revenue to be given to K-12 public schools and higher education for building construction. If it passes, UCSB would receive about $69 million from the measure.
UCSB Director of Capital Development Martie Levy said UCSB’s portion of the bond funds would go to a new building for the Gervitz Graduate School of Education, film studies, law and society, and sociology. Other physical changes to the university would include renovation of Nobel Hall and the biological sciences building.
The campus electrical grid is currently being upgraded so that it can handle the increased power demands from the new buildings. The university has already allocated money to pay for the first phase of the upgrades. Without passage of the bond, university plans for subsequent phases would have to be reconsidered, Levy said.
“We’d have to step back and look at what we would do,” she said. “These are all high-priority projects; that one we really need to find a way to do, so we would be in discussions with the office of the [UC] president.”
While UCSB does receive money from outside donors, UCSB Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs George Pernsteiner said that money is only supplementary.
“Most of the funding for these particular projects are in this bond measure,” he said. “With regard to the education and social science building, the vast majority of the funding for the whole project is in the bond measure.”
While voters were willing to grant passage of bond measures, they rejected Prop 56, which would have lowered the required legislative votes, from two-thirds to 55 percent, needed to pass future budgets. Only 34.5 percent of voters approved of Prop 56, with critics saying it would have made it easier for the legislature to raise taxes.
“It’s a clear message that voters are willing to give Schwarzenegger time to balance the budget, but they don’t want it to be balanced with tax increases,” said John Matsusaka, president of the University of Southern California Initiative and Referendum Institute. “They want it to be balanced with spending cuts.”
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.