We should have known from his movie roles that California's new governor would be nothing more than a blowhard bully. Lacking the guts to take on the entrenched special interests, as he promised when he played the heavily scripted role of outsider candidate, he now proposes to do what all cowardly politicians do: balance the budget on the backs of the poor.
A Los Angeles Times headline Saturday said it all: "Budget Ax Will Fall Heavily on the Poor, Ill." The story on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget plan explained how it "promises higher costs and hurdles for thousands of Californians, from some children with cancer who will no longer get state help paying for chemotherapy to high school graduates who will be shunted to community colleges instead of universities."
Those kinds of cuts, including reneging on an already-approved cost-of-living increase for mothers and children on welfare, are not only hardhearted, but they won't save enough to dent the state's $14 billion revenue shortfall for the 2004-'05 budget. They are window dressing to give the governor the cover of making what he termed "painful" spending cuts while selling his $15 billion bond initiative -- which is a way of raising taxes without appearing to do so. Another scam involves the $1.3 billion in property tax revenue Schwarzenegger proposes to steal from cash-strapped local governments and school districts -- you know, the people who bring you police, firefighters, street repairs, schools, parks and all that other frivolous stuff.
"It's perplexing to me that the governor would say that public safety is the top priority of the state of California and do something like this that really jeopardizes our ability to provide public safety to our citizens," said Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, who had praised the governor's promise of a few weeks ago to restore funding to cities and counties. That was before looking at these budget numbers.
Unchallenged are such questionable expenditures as the continued irresponsible expansion of our prison system far beyond our needs; under the governor's proposal, the youth and adult corrections budget would increase by 8 percent, causing no pain for the powerful prison guards lobby, which will now switch its allegiance to Schwarzenegger.
"The aged, the blind, the disabled and poor women with children are paying for a big chunk of the loss of revenue from the vehicle tax," state Senate leader John Burton told me Monday. "Them and college students and people needing medical assistance. The reality is the only way to balance this budget without exploiting these groups is to raise taxes on the wealthy, and the governor doesn't want to do that."
Put another way, if you have a few Schwarzenegger-branded Hummers in your garage, you've just received a tidy windfall at the expense of those who can least afford it -- such as mothers trying to work their way off welfare through the CalWORKS program. A mother in Los Angeles raising two kids would see her transitional family aid drop from $704 a month to $669, according to the Times. That wouldn't support the governor's stogie habit, even if he cut back to two decent cigars a day.
What hypocrisy for megamillionaire Schwarzenegger to refer to "painful" budget cuts. His kids, after all, are not enrolled in the Healthy Families program, which encourages working poor parents to get needed dental and vision care for their children, nor another initiative that helps working families meet the extraordinary expenses associated with treating severe medical problems such as cerebral palsy and cancer -- both of which would be curtailed in the governor's budget. His kids will never have to drop out of community college because of the fee hikes he's imposed, or suffer from the deep cuts in Medi-Cal funding for the health needs of the poor.
No, the pain that Schwarzenegger claims to feel is the fake suffering of actors in movies -- blood and bruises that can be wiped away when the filming stops. Perhaps that is why he evidenced so much wisecracking good humor at his press conference announcing the budget cuts, which are not likely to hurt anyone in his circle.
"It has been terrific," he told the more than 100 reporters, domestic and foreign, who yuk it up at his cornball jokes. "I have enjoyed every single day of this job."
Well, good for him. Perhaps he could stop grinning long enough to imagine how much fun it would be to support his family for a month on $669 or be unable to pay his children's medical bills.