Former Gov. Gray Davis, no stranger to special elections after being recalled in 2003, speculated Wednesday that California would face a special ballot issues election next spring.
Davis pointed to billions in tax revenues that will expire next year, creating a deep hole in the next budget. He said that would force a conversation about whether to extend current, higher tax rates on income, sales and vehicles -- and that such a conversation would involve the voters.
"The next governor will have to have a special election given the additional revenue shortfall we'll face because of the temporary tax increases expiring," Davis said in a phone conversation Wednesday.
Davis, who was Jerry Brown's chief of staff when Brown was governor before, said he remains a "big booster" and expects his former boss to win Tuesday. Brown has said he would require voters to approve any tax hike.
Davis said the speculation about a special election was his own, not the result of anything Brown has said. "I'm speaking as a former governor who's promoted himself -- legitimately or not -- to be an elder statesman here."
Davis is one of 15 political and business leaders who are part of a new group called the Think Long Committee for California. The group is backed by $20 million from Nicolas Berggruen, a billionaire whose think tank maintains an office in Beverly Hills. It includes former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Condoleezza Rice, as well as former Assembly Speakers Willie Brown and Bob Hertzberg.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is not an official member, though he met with the group Wednesday during its first meeting at Google headquarters in Mountain View.
Davis said the group hopes to meet four or five times in the next several months and offer government reform ideas to the next governor and Legislature. He said the group plans to consider ideas that other groups have suggested but had little success carrying out.
"Our goal is not to reinvent the wheel and insist that every idea is original, but we'll pick two or three and get Sacramento on track," Davis said.
While reform groups like foundation-backed California Forward and the business-backed Bay Area Council have pursued everything from a constitutional convention to restructuring the budget process, they haven't succeeded at placing measures on the ballot. Signature gathering can cost upwards of $2 million, while mounting a successful statewide campaign thereafter can cost tens of millions more, depending on how many opponents crop up.
"Nick's pledge of $20 million is what makes this group different," Davis said.
He added that the money should be seen more as seed money than the maximum because other members of the group or outside supporters may be willing to contribute millions more. The Think Long Committee also includes Google CEO Eric Schmidt and philanthropist Eli Broad, both billionaires.