SACRAMENTO – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) on Monday called a special election for November to try to change the way California spends money, picks its politicians and hires its teachers.
He said the election would continue momentum from the historic 2003 recall that brought him to power, saying he was elected to put "California's financial house in order and reform a government that no longer listened to the people."
"I did not come to Sacramento, and you did not send me here, to repeat the mistakes of the past," he said in a brief broadcast address from his Capitol office.
"I know some people say, 'Arnold, why not wait until next year? Why have a special election now?' But how can we just stand around while our debt grows each year by billions of dollars? If you break your arm, you don't wait until your next physical. You get it fixed now."
Schwarzenegger argues that the issues he is bringing to the voters are critical to breaking the grip that public employee unions hold on the Capitol and fixing budget problems in a state where multibillion-dollar budget deficits are the norm.
The most controversial of Schwarzenegger's three proposals is a spending cap that would impose automatic cuts if revenues fall below projected income. It would do away with a voter-approved 2000 measure that sets a minimum funding requirement for public schools.
He also wants legislative and congressional districts to be drawn by a panel of retired judges, which Schwarzenegger hopes will send more moderates to Sacramento (search). And he wants to extend from two years to five the amount of time teachers would have to work to get tenure.
The state's Democratic leaders reacted swiftly to the address, saying Schwarzenegger has failed to negotiate with them and instead has spent his time raising millions of dollars for the special election.
"After months of name-calling, finger-pointing and scapegoating, we have come to this point. Tonight, the governor pulled the trigger on a special election no one needs and very few Californians even want," Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (search) said.
Schwarzenegger has complained that the Democrats who control the Legislature have been unwilling to negotiate.
His supporters are touting a fourth measure that would restrict the use of union dues for political purposes. If approved, it would dry up a huge source of campaign money for Democrats.
"This is a referendum on the future of California," said Rusty Hammer, president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. "Are we going to fundamentally reform the state? That's the issue."
Critics said there is no urgent need to hold a costly special election this year, saying Schwarzenegger's initiatives could wait for the next regularly scheduled election, in 2006. A recent poll that shows a majority of voters are opposed to a special election, estimated to cost anywhere from $45 million to $80 million.
"'Wasteful' is the only word for a November special election. No initiative is so urgent that it can't wait until next June's normally scheduled election," Democratic Sen. Jackie Speier said.
Schwarzenegger and Democrats could still compromise on key parts of the governor's agenda even if he called for the election. Under that scenario, an election still would go forward Nov. 8, but the two sides would campaign together in support of the compromise initiatives and against those originally placed on the ballot.
Schwarzenegger has had success in taking his initiatives straight to the voters. He persuaded the state last year to approve $15 billion in borrowing to pay down its debt after barnstorming California and blitzing the airwaves with commercials.