I’m rarely surprised by anything Arnold Schwarzenegger says (I literally wrote the book), but his interview with George Skelton for an LA Times column Monday is an exception. The governor is many things when he talks — over-the-top, funny, irreverent — but he’s rarely lawyerly. But lawyerly he was with Skelton. And he was lawyerly in a way that hurts his credibility and undermines the case for the ballot measures.

Here’s one problem quote: “It’s not fair, really, to say that [1A] raises taxes. I understand that the right spins it that way. But it’s disingenuous.” Yes, technically, Prop 1A doesn’t include a tax increase, but other legislation would extend temporary tax increases for two years if 1A passes. For us non-lawyers, that’s a distinction without a difference.

Here’s another: “We should just simply describe 1A as a measure that will fix the broken budget system once and for all so that you never have to make those severe cuts again. And you never have to go back to the people for tax increases again. That’s it.”

That’s plain wrong. 1A doesn’t bar tax increases in the future. To the contrary, as Tom Campbell has written, it doesn’t take a side in the cuts vs. tax increases battle. Future legislatures and governor will have to debate that. It’s an attempt to make future tax increases and budget cuts less severe, and put pressure on lawmakers to budget more carefully.

Schwarzenegger needs to be more careful and not oversell these measures. Five years ago, he sold the state on Prop 58 as a “never again” spending limit. It was a very modest compromise that didn’t advance the budget ball much, and he’s admitted he should have pushed for more. That bit of salesmanship is being used against him, appropriately, by opponents of 1A. That’s why it’s important for him to explain that 1A is a modest measure, that it won’t solve all our budget problems, but that it will make future problems less severe. He also should emphasize, over and over, that it’s a compromise, the best that lawmakers can reach. He should point to the opposition on the left and right as an example of how good a compromise it is. And he should stop talking like a lawyer.

Arnold is right about one thing in the interview: 1A isn’t particularly complicated, by the standards of the California budget and state ballot measures. Look in this space in the days ahead as I go through 1A.