January 17, 2006
Gov. Schwarzenegger Has a Dream

By Debra Saunders

A week after a motorcycle accident resulted in 15 stitches across Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's upper lip, his face showed no damage Monday. Still, as the governor addressed the 21st annual San Francisco Bay Area Labor and Community Breakfast in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., it was clear the scar tissue is real -- at least from his sweeping loss in the November special election that defeated the four ballot measures he endorsed.

Not that you'll see any blood on his face. Schwarzenegger didn't even break a sweat as he addressed a crowd in which a few stood to applaud him, while a few others booed and jeered. The Austrian Oak was all bonhomie. Former S.F. Mayor Willie Brown let the group know it was an honor for the California governor to return to the MLK breakfast. What he left unsaid was that it would be wrong to receive Schwarzenegger uncivilly.

Yet, Da Mayor's words couldn't stop House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi from taking a jab at Schwarzenegger before he addressed the lukewarm crowd, or San Francisco Labor Council heavy Tim Paulson from bashing him afterward.

The worst of it is that even those of us who are rooting for Schwarzenegger to succeed can't rally in his support. He has proposed a budget that spends more than the state takes in -- which leaves him plodding in the footsteps of recalled Gov. Gray Davis.

As the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office concluded last week, the governor's latest budget proposal "moves the state in the wrong direction" -- it "should focus on paying down existing debt before making expensive new commitments." As a result, the state faces "an annual operating shortfall of over $5 billion in 2007-2008" -- and that's the conservative number.

I sympathize. Schwarzenegger was a popular figure, until he started doing the hard part of his job. Once he proposed ways to cut state spending so that he would not have to raise taxes, his numbers started to fall.

They plummeted farther when the media faulted Schwarzenegger for proposing a special election. Voters rejected the measures, even if many newspaper editorial boards put aside their objections to the extra election and endorsed at least some of the measures.

In his State of the State address, Schwarzenegger said he had "learned my lesson." And, "Message received." The problem is, the voters' message makes no sense. It's: We want more government without paying higher taxes -- which means borrowing.

You could see that Schwarzenegger broke barriers with African Americans in the breakfast audience. He explained how he used to say that if he -- an Austrian "farm boy" -- could make it in America, anyone could. But when he ventured into the inner city, he met kids who lacked the education and family support that were the foundation of his success. He realized not every child had the tools to succeed.

Schwarzenegger also explained how his father-in-law, Sargent Shriver, used to tell him, "Give something back to your community." Now, Schwarzenegger is setting the stage to give back about $5 billion more annually than the state takes in.

H.D. Palmer of the state Department of Finance notes that much of the projected $4 billion shortfall in the 2006-07 budget exists because the state pays off borrowed funds early, including $920 million for transportation spending. Also, the governor increased school funding by some $2 billion -- returning Proposition 98 funds early, which the voters clearly wanted.

"Do you really think he had the option of NOT paying that money back this year?" chief of staff Susan Kennedy e-mailed me in reference to the Proposition 98 money.

You know, I do. Schwarzenegger already paid the price for standing up to the forces that ballooned state spending. He lost in November, but that doesn't mean he should propose a spending plan that may work if the economy continues to do well, but could put the state in thicker soup if it doesn't.

Listen to the voters, but know you can't give them everything. The recall of Davis showed that many voters think they can send big spenders to Sacramento, watch them pad employee pensions -- spending that once implemented, no governor can revoke -- and still not have to pay higher taxes. No one complained about the spending spree until Davis raised the vehicle license fee. In one quick year, Davis fell from re-election to recall.

Instead of Schwarzenegger, state employee unions could fall next. Paulson's post-Schwarzenegger broadsides should scare savvy Democrats. "Last November," he boasted, voters sent "a clear message" to Schwarzenegger.

No, it was not a clear message, because there wasn't a cost. Voters knew that they could vote as they pleased and not face higher taxes. Some day soon, however, taxpayers may see local governments pay the price of overly generous pension benefits, and they won't like the results.

The taxpayers are with you -- as long as it doesn't cost them anything. Message received.

Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate

Debra Saunders

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