With all the hype about the California governor’s race, and insider jabber from outfits like Calbuzz, the media is paying insufficient attention to Governor Schwarzenegger’s final months in office.
Sadly, the man can do a lot more damage to the state before his term ends.
From the time he took office in 2003, Arnold’s style of governance has been a combination of insults, bullying, threats and failures. From the beginning, he was unable to use the bully pulpit to break Sacramento’s political gridlock, as he had promised during his campaign.
Each year’s budget process has seen a tsunami of cuts, from parks to poor people’s health care. The governor’s manipulative tactics were most recently demonstrated by his budget proposal to defund the state Parks Department unless the Tranquillon Ridge oil proposal is approved, a highly controversial deal among California environmentalists.
This year California faces a looming $20 billion deficit. Completing his last budget cycle in office, Arnold is moving from cutting major programs to eliminating many of them unless the state gets a huge load of federal dollars. Only on Fantasy Island could anyone imagine Washington bailing out California.
A few examples of the governor’s draconian proposals to get us out of the quagmire he dug for the state: elimination of Calworks; In-Home Supportive Services; Healthy Families Programs; California Food Assistance Program and Adult Day Care Center benefits. Once again the poor, the sick, the disabled and the elderly are his target, as a reading of his proposed 2010-11 budget shows.
Other Schwarzenegger-era changes are reflected in the demise of our once highly regarded educational institutions. The UC and CSU systems are experiencing major increases in tuition, fees, faculty furloughs, loss of academic programs and a reduction in student admissions. Likewise, at the elementary level, school days and years are being shortened, teachers fired and class sizes increased. This is not the kind of change Californians voted for in 2003.
For many, it has been unclear who is managing our state government. Who is making these decisions? On Jan. 17, 2010 the LA Times answered that question with a front page story that fully described the role of Susan Kennedy, his chief of staff, as Schwarzenegger’s alter ego.
Kennedy, the one time liberal activist with strong Democratic Party credentials, was hired by Schwarzenegger in 2005 to run his office. Neither political party was thrilled. In the process of retooling Team Schwarzenegger, Kennedy has taken control of steering the ship of state.
In light of Schwarzenegger’s acting career, it is easy to describe his administration in terms of a Hollywood B movie ,with Arnold as the lead. From the time he announced his plan to run for Governor on the Jay Leno show on Aug. 7, 2003, Californians in fact have been forced to watch the Terminator play a role, unfortunately on that did not end with his election.
A seven-year balance sheet of the Schwarzenegger- Kennedy years shows a few progressive environmental victories, stacked up against the worst economic social crisis since the Great Depression. Today, the paucity of leadership in the governor’s office has put California behind most states in the fields of education, business, technology and innovation.
Upon taking office, the Governor kept a campaign promise and rolled back a vehicle license fee that had been approved by his predecessor Gray Davis. Kenneth T. Rosen’s piece, “California’s Fiscal Crisis: Some Simple Solutions,” estimates $28 billion in revenue has been lost during the last six years, an amount that would have largely staunched California’s slide into economic despair, and possibly prevented it altogether.
An oil severance tax could also have eased state budgetary pain, but his dogmatic opposition to progressive tax increases, coupled with his movie start approach to governance, reflect a lack of compassion for the health and well being of those who elected him.
As if this is not enough, the Governor is leaving us with a parting gift: an $11 billion bond to “fix” California’s water system, a special interest grab bag that will add another $60 million a year to the state’s debt service burden, already the fastest growing item in the budget..
In short, the governor has fiddled while California burned, always more interested in appearing on Sunday talk shows than in real governance. It could have been avoided. That is the legacy of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Calbuzz contributor Susan Rose is former two-term member of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.