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A handful of enviros took part as well, but a cacophony of environmental groups, legislators and their staff experts complain that they were left out. Schwarzenegger “decided to close the door and bring in a select group of people representing special interests,” says Doug Heller, executive director of the Santa Monica–based Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights. “And he did it all without the public scrutiny that is appropriate and necessary. The only thing worse than a bloated government is a secret government.”
And this from a governor who said he wanted to let the sunshine in — that is, do the public’s business in public. For that matter, this entire enterprise is a remake of Schwarzenegger’s original promise. His campaign pledge had been to ferret out billions of dollars in “waste, fraud and abuse.” Instead, Schwarzenegger’s reform plan would save money, for example, by delaying the start of kindergarten for children who turn 5 after September 1.
In total, says Heller, the performance review betrays a deeper agenda than efficiency, one tilted against consumer protection and unions. “And as you pare down government, you consolidate power upward. This proposal is so top down, and so focused on leaving a small number of agencies under the governor, that it looks like Schwarzenegger is trying to create a kingdom rather than reform the government.”
Suspicion arises because advocates still don’t really know who Schwarzenegger is, what he really stands for. Business interests think they know he’s on their side, so they’re inclined to give Schwarzenegger the benefit of the doubt. He hasn’t raised taxes in the traditional way yet, so that seems to pass the Republican test of true virtue. Left-leaning Democrats presume that Schwarzenegger isn’t their guy, but they’re guessing, too. In truth, it isn’t obvious that Schwarzenegger, a policy ingĂ©nue, knows exactly who he is politically. He frequently winds up in much the same philosophical place as predecessor Gray Davis, though in a less overtly calculating way. This on-the-job development of a political psyche counts as a vital, unfolding political drama.
In this murkiness, there’s fodder enough for progressives to weave conspiracy theories. First, there was Schwarzenegger’s pick to head the Department of Finance, Donna Arduin, who wasted no time last fall offering that college tuition in California doesn’t cost nearly enough. She came direct from the administration of Florida Governor Jeb Bush. And straight outta Texas comes management expert Billy Hamilton, who co-chaired the California Performance Review. Hamilton still works for the Republican governor of Texas, as he did for the previous Republican governor, who was You-Know-Who.
Then again, Hamilton was also called in to help President Bill Clinton’s administration. A spokesman for the performance review calls the criticisms unfair. There’s still time for feedback during a public-hearing process, says Bob Martinez. The initial secrecy was to create a think-tank atmosphere, “where people could work in an unfettered way and develop recommendations within a limited time frame.” About 1,800 outside contributors weighed in; a staff of 250 labored over a four-month period through the end of June. And the names of those consulted will be released, Martinez adds. That, at least, would differ from Vice President Dick Cheney’s refusal to divulge information about his energy task force.
The effort, says Martinez, has been a conscientious attempt to improve government, which the executive branch is supposed to do periodically under legislation passed in 1967. Under this process, the plan could still undergo substantial change before the Legislature considers the entire package.
It would surely go down in flames without major changes and downscaling, as state Senate President John Burton (D–San Francisco) already has indicated. There are just too many parties offended by pieces of the wide-ranging plan who’d vie to shoot it down.
If the package fails, Schwarzenegger could take it directly to voters, but it’d be a tough sell if the environmental community and other popular interest groups unite against it. The Legislature also could take up the plan piecemeal. And it’s quite possible that nothing will ever come of this at all.
Which would be a shame, says clean-water advocate Sujatha Jahagirdar, despite her misgivings: “We’d hope that the ultimate goal of the administration would be to achieve clean water and air in the state of California. We would be very happy to get a call from the Governor’s Office asking for our input.”