By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In some ways, Schwarzenegger’s budget cuts will mirror those proposed a year ago in Davis’ nonstarter of a budget, with higher education and prisons added to the mix. Probable targets for major budget cuts include health and welfare programs like Medi-Cal and the Healthy Families program for children, the state universities, and the prisons. It will be ugly.
Budget cuts, reliance on increased revenues from the improving economy, a partial suspension of the Proposition 98 requirement that much of those new revenues goes to increasing the education budget, and stiff new fees on parks and other state functions can go a long way. But it is not easy to see how the budget gets solved without tax increases. It is what Schwarzenegger’s hero, Ronald Reagan, did after he was elected governor.
But this is a different era, with legislators mostly representing safe gerrymandered seats in which they are free to be as conservative or liberal as they want. The Republicans have not had to deal with questions of governing a big complex state and had been content to sit back and say no to what the majority Democrats wanted.
Democrats would like nothing better than to turn Schwarzenegger into his Predator co-star Jesse Ventura, the surprise sensation as Minnesota governor who turned into a fading celebrity phenomenon bereft of institutional support. One of the best ways to do that is to force his hand early on taxes, hoping that his party abandons him.
It’s possible that Schwarzenegger, a champion of the Special Olympics, as he says, didn’t notice that he was proposing to cut funding for the disabled in midyear budget corrections, an idea he dropped. It’s also possible that he wanted a backlash to show his fellow Republicans. There will be more backlashes.
Schwarzenegger was forced into a no-tax stance in several ways. His appointment of liberal Democratic investor Warren Buffett as his chief economic adviser was a signal that he was not a Bush Republican. But it backfired when Buffett mused with a Wall Street Journalreporter about how much less he pays in property tax on his Laguna Beach vacation home than on his principal residence in Nebraska.
Schwarzenegger’s problem was then exacerbated by the replacement ballot, in which he had to win a de facto Republican nomination while running in a general election. And it grew when the vanquished Republican, right-wing Senator Tom McClintock, refused to drop out. McClintock as a live Republican option made it harder for Schwarzenegger to move left.
But Schwarzenegger has worked his way through many complex situations in his careers in bodybuilding and movies, and is hardly someone easily daunted. “Where there is a will, there is a way,” as he likes to say.
The former Mr. Universe is already emerging as a fusion Republican. His social liberalism is well-known, and his more progressive tack on environmental and crime issues, and even some labor matters, is coming into focus. He wants to expand the state’s already big commitment to renewable energy resources, symbolized by the biggest renewable power requirement in the country.
He backs the state’s landmark anti–global warming bill calling for sharp reductions in tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases, and will fight for it in court against the Bush administration. And Schwarzenegger allowed Davis to appoint two pro-labor members to the state’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board, which will help the farmworkers union retain the new clout it won with the 2002 law requiring mediation in stalled contract negotiations.
Schwarzenegger is likely to move against the prison-industrial complex that has sprung up in California over the past 20 years, in part because of money. Included will likely be a more lenient approach to lesser offenses such as minor drug violations. None of which Davis wanted to touch.
Schwarzenegger is far more liberal on parole policy, having already allowed the parole of nearly as many convicted murderers as did Davis in his five years in office. Davis was always worried about being tagged as soft on crime because of his close friendship with the late Rose Bird, who as chief justice of the Supreme Court consistently threw out death penalty cases.
As a famous bodybuilder and action superstar, Schwarzenegger is less concerned with the need to appear relentlessly tough on crime, approving more than a third of recommended paroles, compared to barely two percent by Davis.
Schwarzenegger hopes to enjoy a similar tolerance from most Californians as he works his way toward budget solutions. It’s going to be one rough ride of a year.
“I can sell anything,” he said in his State of the State speech. “If I can sell Red Sonjaand Last Action Hero . . .” Actually, Red Sonja was a rare Arnold bomb, only $6.9 million in domestic box office. Budget Mess II will have to go a lot better than that.