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Governor Still Has Promises to Keep

Times Staff Writers

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger held a town hall in Los Angeles County last week, he described his days in office as a constant process of “going through the list one by one, keeping my promises that I made in my campaign.”

Schwarzenegger made enough promises to fill 24 single-spaced pages on his website, www.joinarnold.com.

As he nears the completion of his first 100 days in office, a topic he is expected to address in a speech to the Sacramento Press Club today, the governor can point to several promises that have been fulfilled -- although his critics can point to many more on which he has yet to act.

Promises are important to any politician. But political strategists say the stakes are higher for a high-profile governor who has never before held public office and must convince voters on March 2 to approve a $15-billion bond he calls vital to taming California’s budget deficit.

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“Schwarzenegger has no political biography before the beginning of the recall campaign,” said Republican political consultant Dan Schnur. “The fact he’s able to point to important promises that he’s immediately kept gives him the credibility to go to the voters, asking for support on the rest of his agenda.”

Schwarzenegger has received heavy attention for keeping two major campaign promises: rolling back a tripling of the vehicle license fee and repealing a law that allowed illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

But on the vast majority of his campaign promises, Schwarzenegger has yet to produce specific results. The extent to which some pledges have not been tackled, aides say, is a function of two facts.

First, it has been only 72 days since Schwarzenegger took office after defeating Gov. Gray Davis in a historic recall election. Second, the governor must revive the economy and eliminate the budget deficit before California can afford his promised investments in education, the environment and other programs.

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In a few cases, Schwarzenegger’s first two months in office offers hints that the governor may be walking away from some pledges -- including a comprehensive audit of state government, a cap on state spending and a vow to conduct his own business openly.

In the end, Schwarzenegger and his aides insist, he will deliver on all of his promises.

“When he was running, he talked about ‘action, action, action,’ “said Press Secretary Margita Thompson. “And now he’s showing he’s delivering that. It’s important to maintain that level of trust, so people can see he’s delivering on his promises.”

Along with the car tax and driver’s license actions, Schwarzenegger has fulfilled a number of other promises with less fanfare.

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* On his first day in office, using language taken directly from his campaign platform, he suspended recently adopted regulations and launched a review of rules enacted under Davis.

* He called the Legislature into special session -- one of his most frequently repeated campaign promises.

* And because of a deal he made with education lobbyists to delay payment of some money owed to schools, he has been able to argue that he kept a promise to prevent cuts to education.

On many other promises, Schwarzenegger has publicly begun work but has not yet achieved the promised results.

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* He has made proposals to fix the state’s unemployment insurance fund.

* In his State of the State speech, he laid the groundwork for renegotiating long-term energy contracts signed at the height of the electricity crisis.

* His budget lays out myriad ways that he intends to seek money from Washington, D.C., fulfilling his pledge to be a ruthless “Collectinator” of more federal aid.

* Last week, he began negotiations to convince Indian tribes that own casinos to share more of their revenues with the state.

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* The governor has relentlessly talked up his proposal to reform the workers’ compensation system, though he has been forced to shift tactics. During the campaign, he promised that “I won’t sign a budget unless it includes comprehensive workers’ compensation reform.” He has since dropped that strategy. Now Schwarzenegger says that if lawmakers don’t adopt his plan, he will take his proposal to the November ballot.

Schwarzenegger’s record has been mixed on his pledges to change the political culture of the Capitol and to operate his administration openly.

In his inaugural speech Nov. 17, he pledged to defuse political rancor: “The election was the people’s veto -- for politics as usual.” And at times, the governor has shown a willingness to work with both parties.

He negotiated a deal with Democrats to put his deficit bond issue and balanced-budget plan on the ballot. He has met with lawmakers in his office and handed out cigars as gifts. He has gone out of his way to praise state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco). To promote his $15-billion bond and balanced budget amendment, he has campaigned alongside the Democratic controller, Steve Westly.

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In other moments, though, the rhetoric from the governor’s office has echoed past divisiveness. In a Sacramento speech last month, his wife, Maria Shriver, compared legislators to children. The governor has described lawmakers as “overspending addicts.”

Schwarzenegger publicly promised during the campaign “to throw open the doors and windows of government.” He criticized closed-door deals. “There’s no such thing as democracy in the dark,” he said at a Sept. 18 campaign event.

Since his election, however, the governor has shown a penchant for private dealings. He negotiated in secret a plan for delaying education funding. He has made a habit of releasing little of his daily schedule. When a group of big city mayors came to talk to him, his office refused to confirm the meeting had taken place, even as the mayors held a news conference outside his door.

As a candidate and as governor, he has pitched his “open government reform plan,” which would include a constitutional amendment on open records and a ban on fundraising during the budget process.

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On his second day in office, he said he would ask the Legislature to add those proposals to the March ballot, but that didn’t happen. The Legislature has placed its own version of the open records constitutional amendment, which covers the executive branch, on the November ballot; Schwarzenegger supports that, but wants new legislation to include the legislative branch.

The governor has cited the state’s fiscal crisis as one reason for deferring some of his promises.

During the campaign, Schwarzenegger called for the extension of health insurance to all California children. “We have a healthy family program here in California,” he said during the Sept. 24 debate. “The only problem with the program right now is that ... the government has not done a good job in reaching out and finding the people and letting them know to sign up.”

But on Nov. 24, the administration proposed capping enrollment in the Healthy Families Program as a cost-saving measure. That would result in denying access to as many as 113,800 children in the next budget year.

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In the campaign, Schwarzenegger promised “to build up mass transit” and “relieve traffic congestion,” citing a $140-billion infrastructure investment by the state of Texas as “something California should do.” But his budget withholds money from a voter-approved fund for transportation projects and uses the money for other expenses.

“These transportation cuts are pretty devastating,” said Dan Beal, transportation policy manager for the Automobile Club of Southern California.

On higher education, Schwarzenegger railed against last year’s sharp fee increases for students, telling an audience at Cal State Long Beach on Sept. 3: “It’s outrageous for Sacramento to increase the tuition 40% in one year.” The governor’s budget, while it limits undergraduate tuition hikes to no more than 10% each year, proposes hikes of 40% for graduate students and slightly more for community college students.

On the campaign trail, Schwarzenegger said the state needed to stop reclaiming money that now goes to local governments -- particularly property taxes.

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“It is wrong for the states to go there and take half of the property tax away and then to have the cities and the local government go up and lobby in Sacramento continuously to get the money back,” he said at a Sept. 24 debate. Schwarzenegger appeared to fulfill part of this pledge by restoring local funds lost when he repealed the $4-billion-a-year car tax increase. But his budget moves in the opposite direction, permanently shifting $1.3 billion in property tax money away from local governments and into state coffers.

Democrats have leveled criticism, not just at specific cuts, but also at Schwarzenegger’s pledges to evaluate the budget. Echoing one of the governor’s campaign pledges, Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) recently asked: “Where is the waste, fraud and abuse he talked about?”

That waste was supposed to be uncovered by an audit that Schwarzenegger repeatedly discussed on the campaign trail. On Aug. 20, he announced that he would conduct “a 60-day audit,” performed by an independent accounting firm. The results would be published so that “all the people can see.”

The Schwarzenegger administration has yet to produce such a document. During the transition, he hired Donna Arduin, a state official from Florida, to conduct an audit. But there has been no comprehensive publication of her findings, and Arduin -- who now serves as state finance director -- has referred to the audit as being conducted in ongoing phases.

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Conservatives have criticized Schwarzenegger for a similar lack of follow-through on his campaign pledge to “put a spending cap on those politicians, because they just can’t help themselves.”

After taking office, he initially sought to impose a strict cap that would have limited spending to $72 billion -- 16% below the current level -- and allowed for yearly increases based on population growth and per capita income. But when it was clear that such a measure would not pass, he brokered a deal with legislative Democrats that will bring to the March ballot a measure that allows spending to rise as long as it matches revenues.

The compromise sets up a reserve fund for difficult economic times. But lawmakers could dip into the reserve with a two-thirds vote.

“It is no spending limit at all,” said state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks).

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Schwarzenegger’s budget appears to exploit the looser provisions of this compromise plan.

His budget calls for borrowing $950 million to cover a payment the state must make to the pension fund for government workers. Arduin explained that more borrowing can be justified, as long as it is earmarked for a particular program that government is obligated to fund. The rationale reveals a loophole that could open the door for billions more in borrowing. That could allow the state to violate the governor’s promise “not to spend more money than the state takes in.”

“The balanced-budget amendment ... prohibits borrowing to close a budget deficit,” Arduin said. “This is replacing a liability within the pension system.”

Schwarzenegger also is under scrutiny for promises he made about his own conduct. He dropped a pledge to investigate allegations that he had groped or mistreated 16 women over the last three decades; the idea of a self-investigation was widely ridiculed.

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On his own campaign fundraising, Schwarzenegger first pledged not to take donations. He later said he would raise money but not from “special interests.” He defined those as Indian casinos, public employee unions and single-issue trade associations that might negotiate with the state.

Since mid-October, Schwarzenegger has continued to raise money, collecting more than $5 million for his campaign fund, inauguration and ballot measures. He has taken in at least $113,000 from firms that do business with the state.

When he is asked about promises not yet fulfilled, Schwarzenegger often responds that if voters will give him time and a little of their faith, he will deliver. “Trust me,” he says.

Times staff writers Miguel Bustillo and Jeffrey L. Rabin contributed to this report.

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