Schwarzenegger to discuss drastic California cuts

Governor plans to meet with state leaders after voters reject budget initiatives aimed at cutting huge deficit.

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California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says the state must address a $21.3 billion shortfall after voters rejected initiatives to ease the problem.
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ATLANTA (CNN) -- California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he would meet with state leaders Wednesday after voters panned a handful of ballot measures designed to pull the state out of a deepening budget crisis.

Californians voted down five of the six propositions in a special election Tuesday. More than 60% of voters shot down each measure, according to final tallies Wednesday.

Schwarzenegger had said that, if the propositions failed, he would have to make drastic cuts to education and health care, and would probably free many inmates from the state prison system.

With all six measures defeated, the deficit would surge to $21.3 billion, Schwarzenegger's office said last week. Even if all the measures passed, the deficit would hit $15.4 billion at the start of the new fiscal year in July.

Schwarzenegger spoke about the apparent defeat late Tuesday.

"Tonight, we have heard from the voters, and I respect the will of the people who are frustrated with the dysfunction in our budget system," the governor said in a statement. "We face a staggering $21.3 billion deficit, and in order to prevent a fiscal disaster, Democrats and Republicans must collaborate and work together to address this shortfall. The longer we wait, the worse the problem becomes and the more limited our choices will be."

Officials had expected low turnout for the special election, with some voters expressing fatigue, while others were put off by the complex issues.

A CNN photographer spent two hours waiting for voters at two polling places in Los Angeles on Tuesday morning, and encountered just one.

The one ballot measure that passed was a provision that prevents certain state officials from receiving pay raises when California has a budget deficit.

The other measures would have capped government spending, protected education funding, changed the state's lottery and redirected money to children's health programs.

Schwarzenegger had warned that, without budget relief from voters, he would have to take severe steps.

The steps include shortening the school year by a week and a-half, cutting tens of thousands of education jobs, eliminating health insurance for nearly 250,000 needy children, laying off 1,700 state firefighters, and withholding $2 billion from local governments, which could trigger cuts in law enforcement and other services.

Defeat of the provisions also could free 38,000 inmates and force the sale of the famed San Quentin prison.

"If they are non-serious or non-violent, non-sex offenders, we could save in general funds about $53 million in 2009 to 2010," the governor said.

About half the prisoners who might be freed are illegal immigrants, Schwarzenegger said.

"Releasing all the undocumented immigrant prisoners to federal custody could save us another $182 million for 2009 to 2010," he said.

But that plan worries some, including Lance Corcoran of the California Peace Officers' Association.

"The reality is that people don't get to the California prison system by accident, and most of our offenders have nine felony convictions before they have ever seen the inside of the prison," Corcoran said. "There is concern that we are just dumping people back into communities and those communities are going to be at risk." To top of page

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