Why Arnold Schwarzenegger's Budget Is Grover Norquist's Wet Dream

California is staring in the face of a $14.5 billion budget deficit and, lucky for us, the old Arnold Schwarzenegger is back. I'm kidding. It's 2004


California is staring in the face of a $14.5 billion budget deficit and, lucky for us, the old Arnold Schwarzenegger is back.

I'm kidding. It's 2004/05 all over again.

Our "post-partisan" governor has pushed forward a devastating, mean spirited, wholly unacceptable budget. See, he took the Grover Norquist pledge and said "I do not believe in tax increases". Therefore, his solution to the deficit is to cut funding across the board. Plus he wants to tack on a few billion more dollars on the state's credit card that he supposedly cut up years ago.

Schwarzenegger's budget is Norquist's wet dream. It would have absolutely catastrophic effects on California's educational, health care, and parks systems, among other services. LA Times:

Yet his vision for the state is costly -- and contradictory. Proposing that the state more than double the borrowing voters approved 14 months ago for public works, the governor compared himself to Franklin D. Roosevelt with the New Deal.

Bewildered lawmakers and activists said that reference was inconsistent with his administration's bid to close nearly one of every five state parks.

"I don't think it represents the governor's values," Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) said of the proposed budget, which is intended to close a $14.5-billion gap over the next 18 months.

For example, let's take health care. The governor has been hard at work to pass a $14 billion universal health care plan that is fairly similar to most of the proposals promoted by the Democratic contenders. His budget is completely contradictory to the goals of universal, affordable, quality health care. Health Access has the best info on the impacts of the cuts:

* MEDI-CAL BENEFITS CUT: The proposal eliminates certain optional Medi-Cal benefits, including dental for adults, chiropractic care, incontinence creams and washes, acupuncture, audiology, optometry, opticians and optical labs, podiatry, speech therapy and psychology, for the 6.6 million Californians in Medi-Cal.

Sorry poor people, no more access to therapists, dentists or ophthalmologists. And you can forget about your incontinence creams.

Schwarzenegger is also adopting one of the most disgusting managed care practices: drown the the poor in paperwork to save money:


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* MORE PAPERWORK LEADING TO LOWER ENROLLMENT ($92.2 million): While the proposal does not seek to directly cut eligibility, it imposes paperwork burdens on low-income families with the purpose of having over one hundred thousand Californians fall off coverage. These 'quarterly status reports' are cynical attempts to reduce enrollment at a time when we want and need to increase enrollment.

And what about education? Schwarzenegger had already promised to make this the year of education. You can't exactly do that when you are promising about $5 billion in cuts to education, including mid-year cuts. Contracts have been signed, teachers hired, programs planned. If this budget passed, schools would have to go back and fire teachers, cancel orders for books and other materials.

The whole point of passing Prop. 98 was to insulate schools from the ups and downs of the state budget. California already spends way below the national everage on per pupil spending. Here is State Superintendent Jack O'Connell on the budget:

“Just this week, Education Week’s comprehensive report card of public school systems nationwide gave California a grade of D+ when it comes to funding our schools. It reported that California spends $1,892 per pupil less than the national average. New Jersey and New York annually spend more than $5,000 per pupil in excess of what our state invests in our students, even taking into consideration regional cost differences. At the same time, California’s student population is the most challenging in the nation with more than half our students coming from families that are struggling economically and a quarter learning the English language. As abundant research makes clear, we simply need to invest more – not less – in preparing these students to succeed.”

California's budget is usually a total mess, due to structural problems with the budget itself and the rules under which the legislature operates. Unlike most states, a budget (or a tax increase) needs 2/3rds support to pass the legislature. While the Democrats hold healthy majorities in both houses, they don't hold a 2/3rds majority.

The budget itself is fairly inflexible due to ballot initiatives that either limit tax revenue (Prop. 13: property taxes, see this LAT article) or establish minimum funding levels (Prop. 98: education funding).

The cynical Capitol analysis is that the governor is intentionally promoting this mean-spirited budget to soften up opposition to tax increases. Daniel Weintraub blogged the CW on this up at the SacBee (reg req):

--It’s not real. I know, as Schwarzenegger said in his speech the other night, “Duh!” He knows and we know that there is no way the Democrats in the Legislature are going to suspend Prop. 98 and then cut $4 billion from the schools next year. Nor are they going to cut a similar amount from Health and Human Services. We’re talking here about real year-to-year reductions, not just shaving the rate of projected growth. It would mean teacher layoffs and larger classes in the schools, and real cuts in health and social services for the poor. Assuming cuts of that magnitude are going to happen on the Democrats’ watch is no more realistic than it would be to assume the Republicans are going to approve an increase in income taxes.

--So if it is not real, what is the real plan? He may not have one at this point. But I would guess he is using this document to try to force lawmakers from both parties to come up with something better. Some of the cuts – in prisons, parks, and schools – cut deeply into things the Republicans value. Perata even talked about restructuring the education budget to punish schools in districts represented by Republicans who vote against the budget. So there seems to be some effort afoot to engage Republicans by showing them that they can no longer vote “no” and still have their priorities funded.

I've tracked Arnold enough to know not to trust him as far as I can throw him, which is obviously not that far. His proposals are very reminiscent of his agenda from 3 years ago, which was an unmitigated disaster.

However, Weintraub is right. This budget is DOA and Schwarzenegger knows it. The speculation is logical, even if it is the worst kind of politics; power brokers making deals behind closed doors and spinning in public.

There is a silver lining to this dark cloud. This crisis is a significant opportunity to actually pass real structural reform. Things are so bad this year that quick fixes will not work. The budget crisis has the potential to push the Democrats, Republicans and Schwarzenegger to actually solve the problems that got us into this mess in the first place. The chance of that happening was aided at least slightly today by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst declared today that the state needed to look into raising revenues.

It is time to examine the 2/3rds rule and fix our tax structure. This year, there is no third rail. And there is no need to make Norquist happy.

Julia is the Online Political Director for the Courage Campaign and an editor at Calitics

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