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Schwarzenegger backs initiatives for special election

Schwarzenegger backs initiatives for special election

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday he will go over legislators' heads and take his case straight to the voters with a special election later this year on overhauling pensions, teacher pay and the way political districts are drawn.

He said he and supporters will start gathering signatures to place the measures on the ballot. No date has been set for the special election, but it would probably be held in the fall.

Schwarzenegger has been threatening such a move for months. It would pit the popular Republican governor against some of the state's most powerful political forces - including the majority Democratic Party and the teachers union.

During a news conference, Schwarzenegger endorsed three specific initiatives. They would privatize the state's public-employee pension funds, which manage more than $300 billion in investments; give authority for drawing legislative and congressional districts to a panel of retired judges; and tie teacher pay to merit rather than seniority.

"The problems are too big to ignore and too dangerous," Schwarzenegger said.

Rob Stutzman, Schwarzenegger's director of communications, said the governor also supports a measure that would lengthen the time it takes teachers to become tenured, from two years to five years.

In addition, Schwarzenegger is still considering different versions of a budget initiative that would impose across-the-board cuts when revenues don't match spending, Stutzman said.

In January, he called on the Democratic-controlled Legislature to place the four measures on the ballot before March 1 or face him at the polls. The deadline has passed with no agreement.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata said Tuesday they are willing to work with Schwarzenegger on the proposals. The problem, they said, was that the administration kept making changes to the plans.

Margita Thompson, Schwarzenegger's press secretary, said the changes were minor.

Schwarzenegger, who was brought to power in a 2003 recall, has called the upcoming election a "great battle" and vowed to raise $50 million to pass his agenda.

While the governor has not said precisely when the special election would take place, Stutzman said it will likely be set for November.

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