Arnold Twists Knife In Cash-Strapped Counties

Monterey County faces a $32 million shortfall and is considering laying off 43 workers and leaving 20 positions vacant in the sheriff’s department, despite a serious gang problem in the Salinas Valley. Other counties on the Central Coast are facing similar crises.

When Abel Maldonado was finally confirmed as Lieutenant Governor yesterday, some of these counties pleaded with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to consolidate the election to fill his seat in SD-15 with the November general election. A Santa Cruz County elections official explained the situation to the local news last night:

“The money eventually comes out of the tax payers pockets and we’re talking about 3 million dollars plus to conduct a special vacancy election,” said Santa Cruz County Clerk, Gail Pellerin.

Gail Pellerin with the Santa Cruz county elections office is urging governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to leave Maldonado’s senate seat vacant until November.  She sent him this letter today explaining how the consolidation could help save the county and tax payers’ money.

“Resources are limited right now.  So it certainly is fiscally prudent for the governor to consolidate this election, especially since he’s got this great opportunity to do so,” said Pellerin.

In addition to the election in November, this special election would cost Santa Cruz, Monterey, Santa Clara, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara counties over 3 million dollars.  Santa Cruz County alone would have to fork out $340,000 and force the county to make more lay-offs and cut services.  County spokeswoman Dinah Phillips told me they’re working on the budget right now and it’s money they can’t afford to lose.

“We don’t have any extra money sitting around anywhere. All of the counties are going through times of unprecedented difficulty right now and there’s no way that we can absorb a hit like that and to no purpose.”

So how did Arnold respond to this eminently sensible money-saving proposal? By refusing to consolidate and instead announcing he’ll likely order a special election with a second round for late August/early September:

“The governor believes it’s his responsibility to fill this as quickly as possible and have a full complement of legislators for the budget talks and also for key pieces of legislation,” spokesman Aaron McLear said today.

However, the seat would not be filled until nearly two months after the June 30 deadline for the state to pass a budget and shortly before the end of the legislative session. Surely the governor isn’t planning to break the law and violate the state constitution by dragging the budget fight out into August and September, right? He’d never dream of doing something like that.

Further, it’s completely absurd to cite the state budget and then turn around and force these counties to spent $3 million they don’t have on a special election when it can be consolidated with the general election.

Obviously this is intended as a slight to Central Coast Democrats, who will be launching a campaign to elect John Laird to the SD-15 seat. I’m not so sure it’s going to work as Arnold expects. Democrats are fired up about the Laird campaign, which will generate intense interest from Democrats across California. By scheduling the election at a time when nothing else is happening in the state, it allows Democrats to focus all their energy on electing John Laird.

Whether the election is in August, September, October or November, Democrats are going to win SD-15. It’s a shame that Arnold insists on having this special election at the expense of the counties he’s already hurt through his taking of their funds.

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