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California voters OK Schwarzenegger's budget rescue

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks to reporters after arriving to cast his vote Tuesday in Los Angeles.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks to reporters after arriving to cast his vote Tuesday in Los Angeles.

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SANTA MONICA, California (CNN) -- Two ballot measures that are the cornerstone of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to fix the state's fiscal mess won approval Tuesday, in a major political triumph for the state's new Republican chief executive.

Proposition 57 -- which would allow the state to float up to $15 billion in bonds to consolidate the state's past debt, without a tax increase -- was getting about 60 percent support and was losing in only a handful of the state's 59 counties, according to election results compiled by the Secretary of State's office.

Proposition 58 -- which would require the state to have a balanced budget in the future, establish a reserve fund and give the governor a stronger hand in dealing with the Legislature during fiscal emergencies -- was getting more than 70 percent support and winning in every county.

Schwarzenegger had put his prestige and popularity behind the measures, warning voters that if they were defeated, draconian budget cuts would be necessary to keep the Golden State out of bankruptcy. He personally stumped for the propositions, even going on NBC's "Tonight Show" on Monday arm-in-arm with the man he ousted from the governor's chair, Gray Davis.

To promote the two measures, Schwarzenegger built a coalition that included state business leaders and politicians from both parties. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat who ardently opposed the recall that put Schwarzenegger into office, campaigned with him for the measures over the weekend.

"What you see are major Democratic elected officials in California supporting this Republican governor," she said.

A recent Field Poll put Schwarzenegger's job approval rating at a lofty 56 percent, and he took the political magic that got him to Sacramento and put it to use in the referendum campaign.

But the support wasn't unanimous. Some conservative Republicans uncomfortable with the prospect of floating more debt came out against the plan, including state Sen. Tom McClintock, who was one of Schwarzenegger's rivals in the recall election. They wanted to close the deficit with budget cuts alone.

State Treasurer Phil Angelides, a Democrat who is widely expected to run against Schwarzenegger in 2006, also campaigned against the bond issue, saying it will saddle Californians with today's debt for years to come. He called on the governor to come out with a "comprehensive" budget plan that included both budget cuts and tax increases.

But Schwarzenegger took a "no new taxes" pledge when he ran for governor and has stuck to it during his first 100 days in office.

The state's budget crisis helped fuel a recall movement last year against Davis, who saw his popularity plunge as the fiscal woes mounted. Last October, voters opted to toss out the veteran Democratic politician in favor of Schwarzenegger, an Austrian immigrant movie star with a Republican pedigree and no political experience.

Surprising and confounding his critics, Schwarzenegger took office in November and managed to quickly push his fiscal recovery plan through the Democratic-controlled Legislature. He then launched a campaign for approval of Propositions 57 and 58, co-chaired by State Controller Steve Westly, a Democrat.

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