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Schwarzenegger’s Illusions Ignore the Next Generation

Sacramento

The line from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s inaugural speech that especially raised my eyebrow was this one: “In the words of President Kennedy, ‘I am an idealist without illusions.’ ”

Really? The idealism has yet to be articulated beyond simple platitudes, which sometimes are in conflict.

So far, the idealistic governor is saying, for example: Don’t hurt schoolkids -- and don’t hit taxpayers. Live within your means -- and live off the credit card.

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To believe those outcomes are in harmony smacks of blissful illusions.

It’s reminiscent of another actor-governor, Ronald Reagan, who would get turned onto a good script and come to believe it actually was true. One of his favorite characters -- whom he essentially created and used in speech after speech -- was the cheating welfare queen.

For Schwarzenegger, go back to the start of his gubernatorial race when he promised, if elected, to conduct “an independent audit” of the state’s finances. “Open up the books, let the people look inside, let the sun shine in.... I think there’s a lot of waste we will find.”

That pledge became central to Schwarzenegger’s campaign pitch. Most important, it gave him an excuse to delay offering specific proposals until after the “audit” was completed.

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What resulted was neither “independent” nor an “audit.” It was a review of the numbers by the Florida import, Donna Arduin, whom Schwarzenegger appointed as his finance director. (Three outsiders briefly glanced over her shoulder.)

You’d never guess what the new finance director concluded: The Davis administration had left Schwarzenegger a “staggering” mess, much worse than feared. “The problems [he] inherited are breathtaking.”

But the “audit” really didn’t uncover anything new, Arduin acknowledged. The deficit numbers were “very similar” to those reported by nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill.

And all that waste? Finding it “is an ongoing effort,” she explained.

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You’d think if there were mounds of waste burdening down the taxpayers, the new governor would order aides to start cleaning it up immediately.

I suspect there is waste. Where isn’t there? But a lot, like enough billions to balance a budget? I think that’s an illusion. If not, let’s see it. Let the sun shine in!

Schwarzenegger did announce Tuesday at his first news conference as governor that he would not be taking a state salary. “Right away that’s $175,000.”

“There will absolutely be budget cuts,” he promised. “I can guarantee you there will be at least $2 billion in budget cuts.”

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He didn’t sound like a guy with a sharp knife, however. He sounded like a bleeding heart.

“I can guarantee you I will not lay off anyone in December or before Christmas. It will be sometime next year.”

And as he pushes for workers’ comp reform: “It is extremely important to know that ... never, I never want to hurt any one of the workers ... who get the benefits.”

Under his care, our fiscal pain will be minimal -- because Schwarzenegger wants to spread it to the next generation.

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During the campaign, of course, the candidate railed against borrowing. “They borrow, borrow, borrow.”

Now he wants to borrow $15 billion for up to 20 years to, among other things, help pay for one-year’s worth of car tax cuts ($3.4 billion).

The governor scaled down the proposal from $20 billion after polling showed that voters would emphatically reject the bigger bond. Even at $15 billion, the bond measure probably would need to be twinned on the ballot with a spending cap to gain voter approval.

But to be placed on the March ballot, the Legislature must pass both the bond and the cap by Dec. 5 -- maybe Dec. 12 at the latest. And a spending cap is a hard sell to Democrats -- just as higher taxes are to Republicans.

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Why not temporarily raise the sales tax to balance the books? “When you do [that],” Schwarzenegger told reporters, “what you’re basically saying to the people is the politicians have recklessly spent money. Now we’re going to punish you for their mistakes.”

Never mind that the people presumably received some services for the money -- like class size reduction, modern textbooks and better trained teachers.

The governor continued: “Everyone has to go through the pain. There’s no two ways about it.”

So Schwarzenegger wants all our children and even grandkids to share the pain -- helping us pay our current bills -- so he can fulfill his campaign promise not to raise taxes. Sounds like politics as usual.

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Treasurer Phil Angelides, a Democrat, borrowed another John F. Kennedy line, paraphrasing it: “What Schwarzenegger has said is, ‘Ask not what we can do for our children and grandchildren, but ask what they can do for us.’ ”

Somehow, Schwarzenegger is under the illusion that borrowing from the next generation is living within our means.

Where’s the idealism?


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