California is issuing IOUs. Banks are balking. Taxpayers, vendors and students will be left holding the bag. And our bond rating just got downgraded, which could cost California billions of dollars in the long run.
This should be the time when our governor focuses all of his attention on solving the budget problem: identifying the issues correctly, finding ways past the obstacles and building the relationships he needs to reach a compromise.
Unfortunately, judging by his July 3 Op-Ed article in The Times, "Waste is killing California," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has chosen a different path. He's more interested in leaving a legacy of policy changes, which he hasn't been able to earn through the legislative process, than in steering this state through our crisis. As a result, he's putting heat on Democrats with a road show highlighting the programs he hopes to change. Along the way, he has resurrected every cliche in the book in an attack on vital public services that children, seniors, people with disabilities and families need to maintain decent lives.
He has used the last week, for example, to talk about fraud in home care and noncompliance in CalWorks. These are important issues to be sure, but they are problems that deserve real hearings to develop effective solutions, not the governor's "drive-by" political treatment. In the meantime, they are a distraction that is making a budget settlement more difficult, as Schwarzenegger exaggerates the impact these issues are having on the budget crisis.
For example, the Schwarzenegger administration has argued repeatedly with the federal government that the measurement of noncompliance for the CalWorks work requirement is unrealistic, rigid and inaccurate. Now he's using it to resurrect the specter of rampant welfare "moms." He claims that self-sufficiency reviews could save $1.5 billion a year. In his May revise of the state budget, Schwarzenegger put the number at $100 million.
Just as exaggerated and inconsistent are the governor's claims about home care. Anybody who is committing fraud in this program should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law -- these services are precious, and if one dime is being lost to fraud, that's one dime too many. But the governor's statements on home care are riddled with fallacies, omissions and misrepresentations.
The governor seems to pluck numbers out of the air. One week he claims that the fraud rate is 25%; the next week it’s 10%. In fact, quality-assurance reviews for the In-Home Support Services program at the state and county levels consistently suggest a far lower rate. And one thing the governor won't mention: He's cut funding for case management, dependent-adult abuse prevention and background checks, and has vetoed legislation to improve home-care worker training and set training standards -- all of which would reduce fraud and protect and better serve consumers.
And surely I am not the only one to notice that the governor's newfound concern about home-care clients is hardly consistent with his proposal to eliminate services for 90% of them. I suppose eliminating the program almost entirely is one sure way to reduce fraud.
So what has the governor accomplished with all this? Budget negotiations are breaking down, no progress is being made and California is losing $25 million more a day.
This is no way to get the job done. It's time for the governor to get serious and put away the political playbook of blame and distraction. He needs to focus on solving the immediate crisis -- instead of on his legislative legacy -- and work toward a compromise.
Eliseo Medina is international executive vice president of the Services Employee International Union.