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Bogus Take on Angelides’ Budget Plan Taxes Gov.'s Credibility

Sacramento

It’s the fall rutting season for politicians. You can observe them trying to vanquish their rivals and court the voters.

All’s fair in politics and mating, their instincts tell them.

Most will resort to about anything to win the prize on election day. But there should be boundaries even for politicians -- lines never to cross.

I draw a line at fabricating facts -- or, less politely, lying. It casts doubts on a candidate’s credibility and character.

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This unscrupulous conduct usually shows up in campaign ads.

A dozen years ago, I slammed then-treasurer candidate Phil Angelides -- currently the Democratic gubernatorial nominee -- for a vicious TV ad aimed at his rival, state Sen. David Roberti (D-Van Nuys). The spot attempted to link Roberti, in voters’ minds, with the murder of a Florida abortion doctor.

Angelides later admitted that running the ad was a mistake.

In June, I raked Angelides’ primary election opponent, Controller Steve Westly, for running a sleazy ad falsely accusing Angelides of illegally dumping sludge into Lake Tahoe. The allegation was unmitigated balderdash.

Gutter ads don’t seep into voters’ homes just over TV, of course. They also come through the mailbox.

One landed on my kitchen table last weekend. I suspect many other absentee, declined-to-state voters got the same poster-style ad. It was from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“Angelides’ $18-billion tax increase would drive California’s economy backwards,” the mailer reads. And in case you don’t get the message, it’s repeated twice. “California families can’t afford Phil Angelides’ $18-billion tax increase.... Phil Angelides would raise taxes on California families by $18 billion.”

It parrots what the governor has been saying himself.

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And it’s all utterly bogus. (My preferred adjective is unprintable.)

Not even close.

Schwarzenegger must know this by now. But whether he does or doesn’t, it seems obvious that the governor has little regard for the truth, at least while in political rut.

Once again -- and this has been written a zillion times by myself and many others -- Angelides is proposing to raise taxes by roughly $5 billion on the rich and big business: hiking the top income tax rate for couples earning over $500,000 a year, and creating a commission to recommend corporate loophole-closings.

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In addition, he is proposing $1.4 billion in tax cuts for the middle class, small businesses and seniors, plus $600 million in college tuition rollbacks.

That’s it.

Yes, in years past, Angelides has suggested extending the sales tax to services, boosting property taxes on commercial buildings and restoring the car tax to the level it was for decades. But he isn’t doing that now.

And to jump on him for his previous notions would be like arguing that Schwarzenegger still proposes to eliminate death benefits for the widows of firefighters and cops. (He pleads ignorance of this embarrassing feature that was included in his abandoned public pension “reform.”)

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Under the rationale the governor uses for claiming that Angelides would raise virtually every tax on the books, you could justifiably accuse Schwarzenegger of still wanting to balance the budget by cutting school funds and borrowing billions from the next generation. You could charge he plans to rip off more federal money intended for the aged, blind and disabled.

There are many things about Schwarzenegger’s past that, I’m sure, he’d prefer not become part of the campaign dialogue. Nor should they.

But back to that baloney $18-billion tax increase.

The Schwarzenegger campaign totes up all of Angelides’ promised new spending programs and contends that the treasurer isn’t proposing enough tax increases to pay for them. So he’ll have to raise taxes by $18 billion, they claim.

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But many of the Angelides “promises” that Schwarzenegger counts are moot or invalid.

The biggest piece of that alleged $18-billion package is $7 billion for a requirement that employers provide health insurance for their workers.

First, that’s not a tax. It’s a required business cost, like a minimum wage. The state Chamber of Commerce spun it as a tax two years ago when a healthcare requirement was repealed by voters.

Second, Angelides’ contemplated health insurance mandate would cover far fewer workers than the 2004 version. He pegs the cost -- to employers, not taxpayers -- at $500 million.

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Another good chunk of the $18 billion would pay schools the $3.2 billion that Schwarzenegger promised but didn’t deliver. This now is moot. Schwarzenegger and the California Teachers Assn. have settled on a seven-year payment plan.

So we’ve knocked about $10 billion off that $18 billion miscalculation.

Schwarzenegger also is adding in $2.4 billion for universal preschool. That figure also is moot. It’s based on Proposition 82, which voters rejected in June. Angelides supported the initiative, but isn’t going to re-create it. His proposed budget includes $225 million for K-12 discretionary spending, and some of it could be used for preschools.

Now we’re down to roughly $6 billion in proposed spending.

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Out of that must come $4.5 billion to balance the budget, Angelides says, because the Schwarzenegger regime hasn’t been living within its means. The governor has been swearing off any new taxes, remember? But he can’t find much else to cut from spending.

Angelides may have over-promised a bit, but nowhere near the amount that Schwarzenegger fabricates.

You’d think the governor wouldn’t be so desperate. He’s the front-runner with a double-digit lead. I don’t know of anyone outside the Angelides camp who thinks he can possibly lose.

He already has all but vanquished his rival and courted enough voters. Schwarzenegger now should be behaving like a visionary governor rather than a political animal.

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George Skelton writes Monday and Thursday. Reach him at george.skelton@latimes.com.


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