SAN FRANCISCO — Half a mile of city and about a billion miles of ideology separated Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Proposition 1A's opponents Thursday, as both pleaded their cases about the top measure on the May 19th special election ballot.

Schwarzenegger, speaking to the Bay Area Council's Outlook Conference at the Westin St. Francis Hotel, said he thinks "we have a very, very good shot at winning the initiatives" despite lackluster poll numbers and language that is "very complicated, very hard for people to understand."

The governor called Proposition 1A "a historic reform" which would enact an annual spending cap based on the previous decade's revenue growth rate; expand and control the state's rainy-day fund; and extend the duration of tax hikes approved by the Legislature. The idea, he said, is to smooth out the fiscal rollercoaster on which California has put itself in recent decades so neither draconian cuts nor sharp tax hikes are needed.

"This is the way to govern," he said, adding "special interests don't want this to pass" because they prefer "chaos" in Sacramento.

But at a news conference outside the San Francisco Public Library, opponents of Proposition 1A said the measure would park California at the bottom of that rollercoaster the governor describes, dangerously short-changing schools and services for senior citizens. Never mind the rainy-day fund, they said — it's raining right now.

Hene Kelly, a retired teacher and member of the California Alliance for Retired Americans, called the measure "a form of blackmail and extortion of the people of California. It will not help us, it will harm us." Sandra Mack, another retired teacher and CARA member, said it's "a bad law ... hastily crafted behind closed doors" by lawmakers who were "short on sleep and high on caffeine."

San Francisco State University Assistant Professor Ramon Castellblanch, representing the California Faculty Association, said the measure "would be devastating to the mission of public higher education in this state," ending a decades-long commitment to working families and saddling California's employers with an under-educated work force.

Schwarzenegger praised the Bay Area Council, public-policy advocacy group composed of the region's top employers, for being an early supporter of the special-election measures. The measure is supported by a wide range of public safety, education, business, labor and other groups, though there seem to be dissenters in almost every sector. The Service Employees International Union this week contributed $500,000 to help defeat the measure. Although that's far less than what Schwarzenegger and the measure's other supporters have raised, it still could help tilt an already ambivalent electorate; a Survey USA poll commissioned by CBS Channel 5 and released Wednesday found 42 percent of likely voters said they were certain to vote against Proposition 1A, while 29 percent said they were certain to vote for it.

And progressives fearing spending cuts have strange bedfellows — conservatives opposing any tax increases at all. The California Republican Party's executive committee voted Saturday to oppose all of the special-election measures, and Republicans including former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan; Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay; Board of Equalization member Michelle Steel; and state Sen. George Runner, R-Antelope Valley, announced a coalition against the measure Wednesday in Los Angeles.

For the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's take on Proposition 1A, go to http://www.voterguide.sos.ca.gov/analysis/prop1a.htm

Reach Josh Richman at 510-208-6428 or jrichman@bayareanewsgroup.com. Read the Political Blotter at www.ibabuzz.com/politics