California's most famous post-partisan came by the Editorial Board on Wednesday to talk up his water infrastructure proposals, healthcare reform and ideas for fixing an "irresponsible" budget process. We steered the conversation to immigration, gay marriage and more. Some selected excerpts:
On healthcare reform.
Jim Newton: Could we move to healthcare for a minute? Because I know your time is limited. As of a few weeks ago it seemed that you were working toward an agreement with Núñez, and that there would be a proposal on the table. Where do things stand now, and what is the likelihood of a healthcare proposal coming out of this legislative session?
Gov. Schwarzenegger: I think we are much closer than when we had lunch, I would say. It's consistently moving closer and closer and closer. And I think that in this particular case time has been in a way a big asset. Because I think everyone kind of learns in the process of what can be done and what cannot be done. And I think the speaker has been, you know, moving forward further than he originally thought how far he can go. I've moved further. I think that we're seeing what's going on all over the country, that the attempts people are making, I think that's where healthcare is going.
And I think that we have really a great, great proposal, and you cannot, really I cannot imagine you can go in a different direction. Because you need individual mandate, you need, you know, to make sure everyone has access. I think we need to have participation of hospitals and also of employers, to share responsibility. We need to work out, you know, the fine line, how far you can go with the mandate. It was the hospitals, and the great thing that's happened lately is the breakthrough, that those that everyone thought that there would be a tax, that this was terrible, you know, that they have agreed, the hospitals have agreed: Yes, you know, there is, it's not a tax. Why? Because we are benefiting more than we are paying. In the same way the employers, they have an increase every year, of double-digit increases that in some cases up and down the state we have heard increases of 25%, 28% increases, a disaster, workers' compensation disaster.
So they look at that increase versus what we're asking, they have to say to themselves "Wait, if we all participate here," they could have a chance not only to level off the increase, but to actually make it come down. Then they would save much more than they paid in. That's why in the end it would be a saving. Too many people who want to derail this want to talk about The Tax. And The Tax, and The Fee. They have no interest in looking at it in a deeper way. What we are saying is in the end, everyone benefits. You know, the hospitals benefit, the employers benefit, the workers benefit, people who are working just periodically, I mean the farms. They can come in and benefit, even though they may come in just a month a year to California and work here, then they go off again to Mexico, or to a crop in Texas or Arizona or something, because they move around a lot, so this is really a different challenge.
But all of them, we've worked on this, all of them will benefit rather than it is going to cost us, because you have to think about this: in the end, what do you do? The benefits are just so enormous where everyone has access, no one will be able to be turned away because of age or because of some medical history or something like that. That's very, I think that there's nowhere else you can go. I think that in the end that's where it will go, and we've spoken with, we've worked with the speaker. He has been terrific, very open-minded. Every day it's kind of a learning experience for all of us. And then also Senator Perata has been great. I mean everyone has been working together on this.
On gay marriage and ballot initiatives.
Tim Cavanaugh: Speaking of ideas that originate in Massachusetts and make their way to California, are you going to veto the gay marriage bill if it does pass the Assembly?
Gov. Schwarzenegger: Well I don't normally never talk about bills that I haven't seen, but let's assume for a second it is, you know, written the same way as it was. I think just the very fact that it is right now tied up in court, I mean I would definitely veto it, yes. And let the court make that decision. [...]
Tim Cavanaugh: Philosophically in your view does a ballot initiative supercede a legislative solution--
Gov. Schwarzenegger: Without any doubt. I don't even have to think about that one. Because I mean that's why you go to the ballot, so that the legislators can't overturn it. The reason why I went with Proposition 49, after-school education and safety, I went to the ballot to ask the people because I know that as soon as they will agree, they will undo it the next year. Because this is low-hanging fruit. I mean, you know what happens up there when you have budget trouble is you can pick from anywhere. And we have done it, we've shown it that that's what happens. So I -- if you want to make sure that something sticks, you go to the people. Because that one is very hard to be overturned, you know, and I definitely don't believe that we should -- I mean what you're saying is, is "OK, you millions of people out there voted for something, but you know we don't like really the way you voted; let us get our guys together--"
Tim Cavanaugh: But that's what protection of a minority is all about.
Gov. Schwarzenegger: But. So. I-I don't believe in doing that. And so I believe that if someone feels like there has been a change of mood -- which I think there has been, without any doubt -- the time will come that you can go back, if the court doesn't make any changes, you can go back, ask the people again, and it will win.
David Lauter: There are a substantial percentage of voters in this state, rightly or wrongly, who whatever the issues is -- whether it's transportation, whether it's water, whether it's healthcare, whether it's education -- their immediate response is, "If you just get rid of all those immigrants, we wouldn't have this problem." And that's a political issue, particularly in your party. How do you deal with that?
Gov. Schwarzenegger: Well, so far we haven't had a problem because I think those immigrants -- legal, illegal -- will use the roads, and the people made a commitment to build more roads. I think they know they will be in the schools, and they made a commitment to build more schools. They know that they're using the water, and they will make a commitment to rebuild our levies. I think all of this -- and that's not going to be the question. I think there always will be the question for us and the frustration of the federal government not really following through and really solving the problem. People are angry about that, really disappointed. And they're also disappointed that the last proposal, immigration proposal, did not give them the feeling that the federal government was really serious in putting up the money. That's why they have no trust in any of this, and this is why it always goes south. Even thought the people when you look at the poll, they say "Yes, I think we should have the reform, I think they should stay here; yes, they should have a way of getting, you know, applying for a visa," and all of those kind of things, but they don't trust the federal government with this because so far we haven't seen the action.
Tim Cavanaugh: Well this is not entirely a federal issue, though. There's a lot of statewide activity on these issues, such as on drivers licenses. It's true that immigrants are using the roads; many of them are using them without licenses.
Gov. Schwarzenegger: Those are Mickey Mouse things. Well no, but I mean in comparison to immigration reform, you're talking about a little thing. The real big elephant in the room is that for years and years and years and years, the people have been angry and the federal government hasn't been doing anything about it. And I always made it clear when someone talks about drivers licenses: you cannot solve the drivers licenses issue if you don't solve the immigration issue. The immigration issue is the big issue. The drivers license issue, there's a thousand little things around it that I call "little things," but really what we should concentrate on -- and rather than putting band-aids on it -- is just push and push and push the federal government to solve the problem, and to be serious, and to put the money up so that people get the confidence that yes, they are really serious about putting enough money on the border to secure the borders and immigration offices, and to really handle all those millions of cases which of course right now they have no chance of ever handling, so no matter what they put in those papers it won't get done.
Tim Cavanaugh: But the punitive crowd, whatever, however you want to refer to them, believe that a lot of those little band-aid measures can make a difference, through a process they refer to as "attrition." If you just make things hard enough, people will give up and go home.
Janet Clayton: Yes, and to turn that back to healthcare, how can you have a healthcare discussion without talking about the tremendous demand and the impact that immigration has in this state. So--
Gov. Schwarzenegger: Because, because it's, look--
Janet Clayton: Illegal immigration as opposed to normal immigration.
Gov. Schwarzenegger: First of all, first of all I think we have to recognize undocumented immigrants, why they're here: they're here to work. I mean, as soon as we have put the thousands of immigration and guards from the National Guard on the border, the amount of people who came through the border illegally dropped. You know, by a huge percentage. I got immediately phone calls from the farmers saying, "Hey, what do you think, who's going to pick my crop now?" And, "You're destroying my business." So it's not a one-way street.
But what we need to do is, we have to find a legal way to bring people in here if the farmers or construction can't find the workforce here in America. It is -- otherwise they will always come in here illegally, because we have supply and we have demand. But what we have to do is we have to force the federal government to do that.
When it comes to the healthcare thing, we are talking about -- it's, it's easy to resolve. Because what we are saying is, it is wrong for them to use the emergency room when in fact there is no emergency.* What we're saying is, there's a health clinic over here that would charge them a hundred dollars versus a thousand dollars in an emergency room. It's better. So we want to solve those problems so it's less expensive for the state of California and therefore that hidden tax will come down considerably because it will be less expensive.
* An earlier version of this article misquoted Gov. Schwarzenegger. He said "...in fact there is no emergency," not "...in fact there is reason."