Sunday, June 28, 2009

Arnie - California's Real Life "Terminator"

Arnold Schwarzenegger's legacy as California governor may be written by events to unfold in the coming months. The Governator is determined to reform California's hapless political system and is willing to take the state down trying.

It's Arnie versus the California legislature in a game of high-stakes, Russian roulette. The latest budget leaves the state facing a $24-billion deficit, money that is nowhere to be found. When the government failed to get the necessary super-majority required to pass the budget, it was left to voters to say whether the government could borrow the shortfall. All it took was a ridiculously small percentage of the electorate, a bare majority of the 19% turnout, to say "no." As a result, California's government runs out of cash next month.

Legislators are looking to issuing IOUs rather than permit the state to default on its bills but the governor isn't buying it. Schwarzenegger says he'll veto any measure that fails to close the state's deficit. From the LA Times:

In doing so, Schwarzenegger has sent the message that he would rather allow the state to begin shutting down than let lawmakers push its troubles off for months by closing only part of the shortfall. The latter prospect could swallow up the rest of his governorship.

"Whatever needs to be done," Schwarzenegger told reporters outside his Capitol office Friday when asked why he would be willing to delay payments to needy Californians. "I know that there is a history in this building of always being late with the budget, to drag it out and to kick that can down the alley. . . . I don't think we have this luxury this time."

The governor readily admits that he sees the crisis as a chance to make big changes to government -- to "reform the system," he said Friday -- with proposals he has struggled to advance in the past.

Among them: reorganizing state bureaucracy, eliminating patronage boards and curbing fraud in social services that Democrats have traditionally protected. The governor also would like to move past the budget crisis to reach a deal on California's water problems that has so far eluded him.

...if his strategy fails, he could be blamed for unnecessarily subjecting state residents to misery.

"I don't believe the governor wants his legacy to be that he had the opportunity to avoid IOUs for Californians and that he failed to take it because he wanted to play a game of chicken," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said last week.

...Gary Jacobson, a professor of political science at UC San Diego, said Schwarzenegger has put himself at risk of antagonizing the public by holding out for some of these ideas while forcing deep cuts and forswearing new taxes that could alleviate some of the pain.

"When it hits people how much damage this budget has done, they are going to say, 'So what that he got some of these things through? Look at what he has done to us in the meantime. State parks are closed. Classrooms are huge. People are being thrown out of the hospital. Medical clinics are shutting down,' " Jacobson said.

"When all this hits," he added, "it is going to be hard to imagine people will look on him favorably because he got some of the structural reforms he wanted."

In fact, the structural changes California desperately needs are constitutional. In a tightly politicized legislature it can be impossible to get the 2/3rds majority approval required to pass a budget. The safety valve for that was to have been a plebiscite called a "special election" to let the public decide whether to allow a tax increase. It's a situation guaranteed to raise more turnout from the "no" camp which is how 10% of the electorate was able to bring their state to the edge of catastrophe.


Christian said...

Welcome back, Mound. Hope all is well, I've missed your posts.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi Christian, and thanks. All's well. Just a little R&R along the coast to recharge the batteries.


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