California voters tell lawmakers, 'Make the hard choices'

California residents rejected a package of budget reforms that was supposed to close the $21 billion deficit gap in the state's finances.

The measures weren't just defeated. They were slaughtered by almost 3 to 1 despite proponents of the package outspending opponents 10-1.

In essence, the voters were telling lawmakers to bite the bullet and shrink the size of government. Governor Schwarzenegger was too cowardly to take the lead and try to push the measures forward, preferring to stay in the background the last few weeks as proponents argued that without the revenue increases, California faced deep and painful budget cuts.

According to this article in the Los Angeles Times by Eric Bailey, the voters are going to get them:

Schwarzenegger has called for cuts that would hit every corner of the state. He announced plans to lay off 5,000 of the state's 235,000 workers and has proposed slashing education by up to $5 billion, selling state properties, borrowing $2 billion from local governments and potentially reducing eligibility for healthcare programs.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa predicted that the city's budget could take a hit -- but he vowed a fight: "I'm going to do everything I can to protect the city coffers."

Worst-case scenarios also call for the release from state prisons of up to 19,000 illegal immigrants, who would face deportation, and the transfer of up to 23,000 other prisoners to county jails.

The governor also wants to borrow up to $6 billion, but awaits word on whether Washington would guarantee those loans. The White House has never done so for the state but is considering the action as Wall Street expresses concern that California could become a deadbeat borrower.

Schwarzenegger has been cozying up to the president of late and it seems likely that the rest of us are going to be forced to bail out California whether we like it or not. The question is, will the White House try and take control of a state the way they have taken control of auto companies and banks? Will Obama dictate spending priorities? Will Washington have more say in California's budget?

It's all about power. And since Obama always sees opportunity in crisis, I have little doubt he will shoulder his way into the public affairs of a state which could represent the most direct involvement of the federal government in the government of a state since reconstruction.