SACRAMENTO – Entering a re-election year with his popularity sagging, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger faces a key political test tonight as he delivers a State of the State speech that seeks to strike a more populist stance. The governor is expected to address quality-of-life issues facing Californians – traffic, wages, education and prescription drugs – rather than the less-tangible government reforms he spotlighted last year, which voters ultimately rejected. “If it is successful, it can be a very public turning point,” said Tim Hodson, executive director of the Center for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento. The governor also will need to strike a more delicate bipartisan balance to cool the simmering revolt from conservative Republicans upset about several moves to the left that Schwarzenegger has made since November’s special election, Hodson said. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECoach Doc Rivers a “fan” from way back of Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson And in the face of Schwarzenegger’s hiring of Democrat Susan Kennedy as his chief of staff and plans for a massive infrastructure bond that could add to the state’s debt, some conservatives have even talked about challenging the incumbent in the GOP primary. Hodson noted there is also a split among Democrats, with some seeing any chance to stymie Schwarzenegger as an opportunity to win back the governorship, while others want to see actual progress and compromises on issues affecting Californians. Toward that end, Schwarzenegger’s address tonight is widely expected to try to build consensus. “It’s about improving people’s quality of life,” said Schwarzenegger’s spokeswoman Margita Thompson. “It will be easy to find consensus to demonstrate the need for these different projects because everyone can relate to the fact that ‘I’m spending more time in traffic,’ or ‘My kid’s allergies or asthma are acting up.’ ” Among the issues expected to be addressed: Infrastructure: Schwarzenegger wants to “rebuild” the state’s infrastructure – with an emphasis on roads, bridges, ports and schools – and is expected to propose a multibillion-dollar and other financing mechanisms to pay for it. The case for the projects will be tied to quality-of-life issues such as traffic and pollution. Minimum wage: He plans to seek a $1-an-hour increase in the state’s $6.75 minimum wage, with 50-cent hikes in September 2006 and then in July 2007. Schwarzenegger vetoed an effort last year to increase it because he does not want to tie future increases to the cost of living. College fees: He plans to add enough money to the University of California and California State University systems to avert a fee hike slated to take effect this fall. Pharmaceuticals: Schwarzenegger has asked Congress to allow Americans to import cheaper drugs from other countries. He previously vetoed the Legislature’s efforts to help Californians import drugs, citing federal law and health and safety concerns, although several other states do allow drug importation. While the issues are likely to resonate with consumers, Schwarzenegger’s efforts come as the governor’s popularity wanes. A poll released today by the Public Policy Institute of California finds that 58 percent of Californians, and 53 percent of likely voters, disapprove of Schwarzenegger’s job performance. Those numbers are consistent with the low marks he received throughout the second half of 2005 as the special election campaign heated up. And they are a stark contrast to the robust approval ratings he received in his first year as he worked closely with the Legislature on issues such as economic recovery and workers’ compensation. Since the November special election, Democratic legislative leaders have said they are willing to put aside partisan politics during this gubernatorial election year for the sake of common goals. “I’m getting too old to waste a year of my life. So I’m not going to spend (2006) positioning for 2007,” Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, declared shortly after the special election. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuez, D-Los Angeles, said Wednesday that he likes what he has heard from Schwarzenegger recently. “The governor really struck a conciliatory tone when he talked about transportation infrastructure,” Nuez said. “And when he embraced a lot of the issues that many of us on the Democratic side of the aisle have been advocating for several years – minimum wage, more funds for public education, more funds for higher education, a deal on making sure we get lower-cost prescription drugs for seniors and families on fixed incomes.” Both Perata and Nuez have proposed their own infrastructure bonds and the three leaders hope to eventually compromise on a single measure to present to voters in June or, more likely, November. The first draft of Nuez’ bond proposal was introduced to the Assembly on Wednesday. It does not include a specific dollar amount or projects, but outlines general areas that need to be addressed, such as transportation, environment, flood control, seismic retrofit of hospitals and emergency communications. Nuez believes the state will need to come up with new revenue sources to pay for the bond, but he has not definitively said whether that means new taxes or fees or other possibilities. Nuez and Republican leader Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, are also working on a government reform package this year that would include redistricting, even though voters rejected the governor’s special-election measure last year. They are also studying whether to alter term limits. McCarthy said Republicans are also eager to address the infrastructure issue, but have concerns over how to pay for it, and would resist new taxes. Harrison Sheppard, (916)446-6723 [email protected] Arnold Schwarzenegger’s State of the State address will be aired at 5:05 tonight on Channels 2, 4, 7 and 11. The speech also will air on The California Channel, which is available on most cable systems, and via Web cast at www.calchannel.com. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!