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DEMOCRATS WAFFLE ON ARNOLD'S PLAN PARTY GIVES LEGISLATIVE LEADERS WIGGLE ROOM.

Byline: Harrison Sheppard Sacramento Bureau

SAN JOSE - The California Democratic Party voted Sunday to back a March 2 ballot measure making it easier to raise taxes in the future but refused to take a position on the bipartisan measure to borrow $15 billion as part of the state's fiscal recovery plan initiated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Concluding their annual convention, delegates agreed to allow party Chairman Art Torres to decide later on the governor's proposed $15 billion bond and balanced-budget plans, giving Democratic legislative leaders leverage in their negotiations with Schwarzenegger on budget cuts and other issues.

At the same time, they unanimously supported two other March ballot measures: a $12 billion school bond issue and a proposal to lower the voting threshold for the Legislature to raise taxes and pass a budget.

Party political adviser Bob Mulholland said the Democrats want to see what the state Republican Party does at its convention next month before deciding whether to support the borrowing plan. Giving many party leaders pause, he said, was a poll last week that showed only 35 percent of likely voters support the borrowing.

``All of a sudden people were wondering if Arnold has not really made the case,'' Mulholland said. ``Can he make the case? Absolutely. Can he win? Well, if nobody spends money (in opposition), probably - if he runs a good campaign he can.''

Some convention delegates argued that the party should oppose the borrowing and support tax increases to reduce the state's massive debt and budget shortfall.

``I'll do a lot of things for Democrats I don't necessarily agree with for party unity, but there's no way I can support imposing a $15 billion debt on my children,'' said Vern Novstrup, a delegate from Ventura. ``I do not steal from my children.''

Novstrup and several other delegates attempted to force the party to take a position but were outvoted on the convention floor. When another delegate suggested the party look at supporting a plan for higher taxes on the wealthy, many on the floor applauded, although the issue was not put to a vote.

The attempted minority revolt came even though Schwarzenegger's plan - a $15 billion bond measure and a balanced budget constitutional amendment - was placed on the March ballot by the Democratic-controlled Legislature, and the campaign committee is co-chaired by Democratic State Controller Steve Westly.

Inola Henry, who co-chairs the party's resolutions committee, said the committee recommended taking no position on the recovery plan at this time because the measures were placed on the ballot much later than usual and there was not enough time to evaluate them before the convention.

``It's not that we are not taking a position,'' Henry said. ``We're just not taking one now.''

Sid Gold, a delegate from Granada Hills, said he could understand the party not taking a position now, but wishes there would be a ballot by mail for all members to weigh in on the final decision. He opposes the $15 million bond measure.

``The bond measure, I think, is another way of imposing a tax,'' Gold said. ``It's not a direct tax, but it's a tax. Everyone's going to pay for it eventually.''

The Oakland mayor and former governor, Jerry Brown, supports the bond measure because ``deficit spending is what you do in the middle of a recession,'' he said.

``When you're in a soft economy, the borrowing of money to stimulate jobs and economic activity makes a lot of sense,'' Brown said.

Harrison Sheppard, (916)446-6723

harrison.sheppard(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 19, 2004
Words:587
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