Schwarzenegger should be talking to himself
The governor is at the very least a co-conspirator in causing the state's deficit.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger talks with reporters about his negotiations with legislative Democrats aimed at closing the budget gap. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press / July 16, 2009)
The volume rose in late June when budget talks heated up.
At a Los Angeles news conference, he complained that "they live way, way beyond their means."
He also repeatedly asserted that "we must stop promising programs and services that we can't afford."
But rather than talking to a TV camera, Schwarzenegger should be talking to a mirror.
It's true that Democratic-dominated legislatures have been guilty of passing bills that spent money the state didn't have. But most of what gets spent in Sacramento must be OKd by a governor.
Besides the power to veto any bill, California's governor can grab his "blue pencil" and reduce spending, within limits, before he signs a budget. It's a "line-item veto" power that Schwarzenegger has frequently used, but obviously not enough, given the anti-tax climate he has helped generate.
All told, this governor has blue-penciled $5.1 billion from budgets, $2.4 billion of it general fund spending.
For Schwarzenegger to rail about the state not living within its means is disingenuous, to put it politely. He's as guilty as anyone -- at minimum a co-conspirator. In fact, he's directly responsible for a significant portion of the current $26-billion budget gap.
Rewind to even before Schwarzenegger came to Sacramento vowing to "end the crazy deficit spending."
In 2002, Hollywood's action hero created a ballot initiative for after-school programs that he used as a springboard to the governor's office the next year. He charmed the business and school lobbies and intrigued the electorate, which approved his Proposition 49 by a 57% majority. The program became a $550-million annual hit on the general fund.
Schwarzenegger's ballot measure provided no separate funding for the program. The money comes off the top of the deficit-ridden general fund. So while classrooms are closing, summer schools are being canceled and music and art are being scrubbed, the state must pay for after-school programs. That $550 million could support roughly 7,000 teachers, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office.
Schwarzenegger has resisted legislative efforts to return Prop. 49 to the voters for revision, if not outright repeal.
The governor committed his biggest fiscal blunder, however, immediately after being sworn in. That was his so-called car tax cut, a crowd-pleaser.
Schwarzenegger had campaigned full throttle against Gov. Gray Davis' "outrageous" raising of the vehicle license fee. His favorite stunt was using a wrecking ball to smash an old jalopy that symbolized the tax.
Davis really had only bumped the fee back to its historic level: to 2% of a vehicle's value, rather than a recently enacted 0.65%.
Schwarzenegger's canceling of the fee hike actually amounted to the single biggest spending increase of his reign. That's because all the revenue from the vehicle license fee had gone to local governments, and Schwarzenegger generously agreed to make up their losses by shipping them money from the state general fund.