SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) plans to go over legislators' heads and take his case straight to the voters with a special election in November to change the way California spends money, picks its politicians and hires its teachers.
The Republican governor was scheduled to call for the election during a televised address from his Capitol office Monday. He has described the looming campaign as "the great battle," and the election could very well determine his own future in politics.
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 revenue fell 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. And he wants to extend from two years to five the amount of time teachers would have to work to get tenure (search).
"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."
His supporters are touting a fourth measure that would restrict the use of union dues (search) for political purposes. If approved, it would dry up a huge source of campaign money for Democrats.
Schwarzenegger has complained that the Democrats who control the Legislature have been unwilling to negotiate; lawmakers, in turn, have accused him of not trying to work with them.
Critics said there is no urgency for holding 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 (search) 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.