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We'll see how voters like big reductions

Excerpted from Wednesday's San Jose Mercury News

The frustrated, the uncompromising and perhaps also the uninformed have spoken. With the results of Tuesday's election, all voters now share responsibility for the impending meltdown in Sacramento. As they watch the destruction of state and local services, many more Californians too will become angry — although, we suspect, not at themselves. The massive statewide no vote on five of six budget initiatives has left Gov. Schwarzenegger and legislators scrambling to decide what to say yes to. They need to solve a deficit that, since Tuesday, has mushroomed from $15 billion to as much as $22 billion.

The message from the vote is muddled, however, because anger came from both sides of California's political divide. That's dangerous for those seeking middle ground to balance a budget without resorting to massive cuts or gimmicky borrowing.

The defeat of Proposition 1A, which would have extended $16 billion in temporary taxes for two years, will embolden Republican legislators to dig in their heels. In February, a handful of them defected to join Democrats to put Proposition 1A on the ballot. If the backlash from conservatives hadn't already scared them back into the herd, Tuesday's results will. But Democrats see the defeat of Proposition 1A as a rejection of spending limits, which was the other half of a compromise proposition that ultimately pleased no one. They can start on their wish list of new fees and taxes — on alcohol, oil extraction, golf and other entertainment for starters — but reality is that higher taxes will be off the table for now.

Many voters have become so cynical over threatened budget cuts and what they perceive as waste in government that they may need to see evidence that the crisis is real. That means laying off teachers and police officers, throwing kids off health insurance rolls and letting prisoners out early. Only then will lawmakers be able to make the case for more revenue.

Voters voiced exasperation that legislators had failed to fix the budget deficit themselves and instead had handed them such confusing propositions. But voters had passed previous initiatives that tied lawmakers' hands — including requiring a two-thirds majority in the Legislature to pass taxes and enact a budget. And they also elected hard-core liberals and conservatives to the Legislature, creating the stalemate that made a complex ballot all but inevitable.