State Budget Mess: Chronicle Lies About Who’s at Fault

by Paul Hogarth on December 2, 2008

If you get your news about Sacramento from the San Francisco Chronicle, you’d believe Arnold Schwarzenegger is a “Kindergarten Cop” stuck with a “worse than worthless” legislature that can’t agree on a state budget. Moreover, you’re probably “outraged” that members of the state legislature left town during the budget mess – although it’s clear that obstructionist Republicans weren’t going to let anything pass anyway. The real outrage is that California’s a deep blue state with constituents who want a functional government – but the two-thirds vote requirement gives us an Alabama budget. And Arnold (who’s proven to be a worse Governor than a B-movie actor) can’t keep his own party members in line, and even vetoed the state budget when it didn’t go his way – as he hopes for his own exit strategy through an appointment in the Obama Administration.

After Schwarzenegger moaned last week that the state legislature is “like a kindergarten” for failing to pass a budget package, the SF Chronicle couldn’t resist issuing an editorial yesterday – calling Arnold a “kindergarten cop.” From the Chronicle’s perspective, both parties in the legislature are at fault for this budget impasse – while the Governor’s just a reasonable adult who can lecture them on getting things done. The Chronicle published an op-ed last week by a Fresno Bee editor titled “California’s worthless legislature,” and followed up on Sunday by calling them “do-nothing” and “worse than worthless.”

But the facts get into the way of that narrative …

Consider the infamous November 26th meeting, where the state legislature adjourned for the session after failing to close a $28 billion deficit. In the spirit of compromise, the Democratic majority proposed a series of painful cuts that crippled our school systems, slashed money for “welfare-to-work” programs, and delayed more cost-of-living adjustments for seniors, blind and the disabled – while sparing further cuts with $800 million in “fund transfers.” In exchange, all they asked for was to raise the Vehicle License Fee to a whopping two percent.

That wasn’t good enough for the Republican minority. Not a single G.O.P. legislator voted for this tough budget package during tough fiscal times, although the Democrats took leadership on this issue by making extremely difficult choices. For a lame-duck legislature in its final day of session, couldn’t a few Republicans have had the heart to leave office on a high note – by approving a budget package to keep the state going?

California is one of only three states that require a two-thirds majority to pass the state budget, which has allowed Republicans to run the process – in one of the bluest states in the union. No matter if times are good or bad, these right-wing obstructionists say they won’t support any tax increase in any way, shape or form. They don’t care if we shrink government until you can drown it in a bathtub to accede their demands – after all, they all signed the Grover Norquist pledge to do just that. We may be a blue state, but it’s an Alabama budget process.

And because Republicans are the “opposition party,” they never get held accountable for their reckless obstructionism – even if they effectively run the show. Schwarzenegger never exercises leadership to rein them in, but he was more than happy to whine that the whole state legislature – Democrats and Republicans – is “like a kindergarten.” Back in September, when the legislature likewise passed a budget severely castrated to appease the G.O.P. minority, Arnold vetoed the entire package – giving the state no budget at all.

In March 2000, Schwarzenegger opposed a proposition to abolish the two-thirds vote requirement. The Republicans have abused their power to hold up the process, but a Governor who knows all about show business – but fails to grasp the skills of governing – still couldn’t figure out the constitutional crisis we’re in. The Chronicle’s happy to play stenographer to Arnold’s sound-bites, but where were they when he helped cause the mess we’re in – such as gutting the Vehicle License Fee and pushing revenue bonds?

Now there’s talk that Schwarzenegger may get a plum appointment in the Obama Administration – perhaps as energy czar. It makes sense, because with newspapers like the SF Chronicle, nobody outside of Sacramento knows he’s done a terrible job as Governor. Ironically, it may be the perfect escape hatchet so Arnold never gets held accountable for his lack of leadership on the budget. Something tells me he may be counting on that eventuality, but I hope Barack has better sense.

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