|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Monday, July 19, 2004
Los Angeles Times 7-19-04
George Skelton: It's Time to Act Like a Winner and Terminate Budget Battle
In bitter budget times, warring politicians should heed the sage advice of the late U.S. Sen. George Aiken: "Declare victory and withdraw."
Even a self-proclaimed "warrior" governor would be prudent to recall the Vermont Republican's wisdom, offered in 1966 as America escalated its combat commitment in Vietnam.
But as the latest California budget war escalated Thursday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed — as if reading from an old movie script — that "I will stay here and I will stay here and I will stay here and I will fight like a warrior for the people…. And anyone that pushes me around, I will push back, including the Democrats and the special interests. Trust me."
Then, instead of "staying here" in the Capitol and trying to negotiate a budget agreement, the governor flew off in his jet to do what he seems to enjoy best about this job: hold rallies, soak up atta-boys and pump up public pressure on Democratic legislators.
He used bully tactics and boorish words. "Terminate" Democratic legislators, he urged voters. "I call them girlie men."
Spokesman Rob Stuzman explained the strategy: "Let them taste steel."
Schwarzenegger, however, should pause to survey the booty he already has captured in the budget battles: A spending plan balanced — at least on paper — without a tax increase. In fact, it finesses a $4-billion car tax cut. There's an unexpected $1.4 billion for transportation, won from Indian gambling deals. And education interests are satisfied.
Unfortunately for the governor, he was cruising with Democrats toward a rare, on-time July 1 budget when fellow Republicans and local governments carpet-bombed his path — reminding him that he was supposed to be on their side.
So Schwarzenegger missed the chance to keep his promise of producing an on-time budget and ending the annual "summer slam-fest." And the longer this war rages, the more ordinary — the more political, the more ineffectual — our action-hero governor will look. Among all the combatants, he has the most to lose. A governor always does.
Republicans turned on Schwarzenegger for giving in to Democrats and adding about $1 billion to his $103-billion spending plan, mostly for college enrollments, the disabled, elderly poor and welfare moms.
The GOP also sided with local governments against a tentative agreement Schwarzenegger had reached with Democrats for funding of cities and counties. The governor quickly realigned himself with an earlier deal he had cut with the local entities.
In exchange for their budget votes, Republicans then began demanding the repeal of two acts unrelated to the budget: a so-called "sue your boss" law that makes it easier for workers to sue employers, and a labor-backed law that restricts the ability of schools to contract with private firms. The governor again lined up with GOP lawmakers.
But Republicans, like the governor, should take stock of their budget victories. They got their No. 1 wish: no new taxes. And after kicking up a fuss at the budget deadline, they prodded Schwarzenegger into dropping $100 million-plus in new fees.
You see the picture: Sacramento is swarming with special interests. But it's the Democratic interests — labor, lawyers — that Schwarzenegger attacks. The GOP interests — mainly business — he accommodates and even hits up for political donations. No shock there. It's old politics.
Another picture: Despite Schwarzenegger's claims, it's Republicans — not Democrats — who are blocking the budget.
So what's going on? Minority Republicans are striving for relevance and respect — and major support from business interests in November.
Majority Democrats have won budget concessions for college kids, the elderly poor and the disabled. Now, they're trying to keep their labor and lawyer patrons happy.
Cities and counties, who don't even have a vote in the Capitol, are demanding the dome. But they, likewise, should count their winnings. They've already been offered more by Democrats than they ever dreamed.One example: Local governments are insisting that before a future Legislature can shift their property tax money to schools — thus reducing the state's obligation to schools — at least a three-fourths vote be required. Democrats are offering two-thirds. But currently, all that's needed is a simple majority.
After being widely criticized by Republicans privately and commentators publicly for being a "softie" on budgeting, he has decided to reassert his "Terminator" image — and show he's no "girlie man."
And since the budget already was late, he thought, why not justify the tardiness and hold out for two unrelated bonuses: repeal of the sue-your-boss and school contracting laws.
Finally, he is renewing his GOP credentials after having agitated some Republicans during a California Journal magazine interview published in late June. Schwarzenegger said that because of his "great relationships" with Democrats, he would be campaigning for Republican legislative candidates "much less than what I expected."
Twelve years ago, during another budget battle, Gov. Pete Wilson borrowed a line from Civil War Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and vowed "to fight it out on this line even if it takes all summer." It did.
A wise warrior knows when he has won. He collects the booty, heals his wounds and prepares for the next war.
These news clips are provided by the Public Affairs Department of The California State University. They are intended for the internal use of The California State University system and should not be redistributed. Questions and submissions may be sent to email@example.com.