LOS ANGELES -- Gov. Pete Wilson of California appears increasingly isolated from fellow Republicans over his continued support for stalled legislation that would help local governments sell more general obligation bonds.
Republican leaders, along with dissatisfied taxpayer groups, effectively blocked measures during the recent legislative session that would have allowed local GOs for schools, jails, and parks to be approved by a simple majority vote, instead of the current two-thirds requirement.
Many Democrats, educators, and local governments support such a change. Nevertheless, it appears a majority of Californians are opposed reducing the vote requirement, according to a poll released last week.
"Neither the governor nor Democratic leaders appear to have enough credibility to persuade people to follow their lead on this issue," the Mervin Field poll concluded. "In fact, their espousal of a supportive position seems to repel rather than attract voters -- a reflection of the widening 'I don't trust politicians' mood now prevalent in the state."
The poll found that 52% of voters opposed a majority vote change for GOs.
California voters are important in any attempt to change the threshold for passage of local general obligation bonds. Such a move would change California's constitution, so if any bills ever succeed they still must go before voters in a statewide election.
"I don't think it's going to pass the people, even if it does get out of the Legislature," said Lyle Smoot, assistant executive officer for the state Allocation Board. "The support just isn't there."
But a spokesman for the governor, James Lee, said Gov. Wilson will continue to make reducing the two-thirds vote requirement a top priority.
Gov. Wilson touted a majority vote requirement for local jail and school GOs in his fiscal plan, and he promoted the idea in his State of the State address when he took office 10 months ago. Legislators introduced at least five new bills this year to help make the governor's plan a reality, but none of them passed.
Fiscally strapped local governments -- struggling to fund new schools and jails -- are looking toward the next legislative session, which begins Jan. 1, as an opportunity to push several of these bills.
One closely watched bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Jack O'Connell, D-Carpenteria, would allow simple majority vote approval for school and jail GOs. The bill failed to clear the Assembly, even though education leaders had hoped the measure would pass this year.
Mr. O'Connell, who has introduced similar measures for four straight years, predicts California will need $24 million over the next decade to accommodate increased school, community college, and jail populations. The Association of California School Administrators estimated that passage of Mr. O'Connell's measure, ACA 6, would produce between $600 million and $1 billion in additional local bond proceeds for schools.
"We're still optimistic on ACA 6; we're desperate for it," said Dennis Meyers, a lobbyist for the association. "At this point, this is our number one bill for next year. We've got kids being crammed into every nook and cranny in many districts in the state."
But conservative Republicans, incensed by Gov. Wilson's tax increases that helped to bridge a $14.3 billion budget gap last summer, worked hard to fight the majority vote bond bills.
"Gov. Wilson is looking increasingly isolated even among the liberal Republicans who supported his tax increases this summer," said Assemblyman Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, a conservative. "They are now realizing they have provoked a new taxpayer revolt which will not bode well for them in the next election. They will be extremely hesitant to back such measures next year."
Mr. Lee, however, predicted some Republicans would change their minds and support the governor.
"As we that California's infrastructure is deteriorating, I think there's going to be a clamoring from their own constituents that they need the funds," Mr. Lee said.
A long-term capital outlay plan released earlier this year by the state Department of Finance also noted that a simple-majority threshold for local GOs would relieve pressure on the state to fund such programs.
Some assemblymen also have proposed a compromise plan to allow a 60% approval vote for bond measures.
"We're talking about the possibility of introducing some kind of 60% compromise measure next year," said Lynne Andersen, a press aide for Assemblyman Bill Filante, R-San Rafael. "I think almost every Republican is opposed to the majority vote," Ms. Andersen said.
Taxpayer groups also expressed opposition, saying Mr. O'Connell's measure would put too great a burden on property taxes and that local bonding authority is already being used effectively.
The California Taxpayers Association -- known as Cal-Tax -- also is concerned about legal challenges to Proposition 13, which limits the state's property tax rates. Property taxes are used to back GO debt.
"Cal-Tax is concerned about the uncertainty of the property tax base," Larry McCarthy, president of Cal-Tax, said in a statement. "Major suits challenging Proposition 13's acquisition value assessment systme are pending. Until these cases are resolved, it is imprudent to make further changes in Proposition 13's rate controls."
The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a California home owner's legal challenge to the state's property tax system, which levies varying amounts, depending on when property was acquired.
Since 1986, Cal-Tax estimates that 53% of local general obligation bond measures for schools were approved. Local officials have argued that many more GO bond issues would succeed if they did not have to meet the difficult two-thirds approval threshold.