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Jon Coupal- Columnist

Jon Coupal is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -- California's largest taxpayer organization with offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. [go to website] [go to Coupal index]

Governor Needs to Unload on Adversaries
Stop the retreat, appeasement doesn't work...
[Jon Coupal] 7/15/04

Did you ever see an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie where he was hesitant to use whatever weapon was in arm's reach? Neither have I.

Whether battling armies of bad guys in the jungle, deadly aliens or robots from the future, our action hero used all manner of firepower at his disposal. Swords, guns, artillery and lasers: Not once did he pause and say, "Gee, I ought to save this for later."

Governor Schwarzenegger -- locked in the annual dance of the state budget -- has two huge weapons at his disposal which he is not using: His mandate from the voters from last year's recall election and a positive rating from California voters that is over 70%. Combined, these weapons represent extraordinary political capital. He needs to start spending that capital to force a spending plan reflective of his administration's proposed budget in January -- a budget that relied on less borrowing and more cuts.

Instead, the Governor is giving ground -- some say retreating -- while his rapid fire machine gun is still full of ammo. This is especially true regarding his negotiations with public employee unions. Last week, it was reported that union members actually cheered when they learned the details of the governor's deal with union leaders. When unions cheer, taxpayers weep. Public employee unions have been accurately labeled as "America's Protected Class" for more than 20 years by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Defenders of the Governor's newly found "kinder and gentler" negotiation style might argue that the budget process is far more complex than the plot line of an action flick. After all, instead of good guys and bad guys, aren't there simply competing interests at the table, all of which are equally legitimate? In a word, no.

From a strictly personal perspective, Arnold should give the unions no quarter. These are the people who fought tooth and nail against both the recall election and Arnold's candidacy. They pulled all the stops -- money and manpower -- in a failed effort to put their anointed Cruz Bustamante in the Governor's office. If Arnold believes in rewarding his friends and punishing his enemies, it makes no sense to grant the unions any favors whatsoever.

Nor should the unions be given special treatment from a policy perspective. These are the folks who have demanded -- without compromise -- that milk testers and billboard inspectors are "public safety" workers entitled to the richest of pensions. They have openly and willfully injured school children by refusing to permit local school districts to contract for lawn maintenance or transportation services which would save scarce educational dollars. These are the same forces that have bankrupted local governments by using their political clout to elect cronies who make the decisions over pay and benefits for the very people to whom they are beholden. At both the state and local level, most of our political elites work for the unions, not the other way around.

As in action movies, the budget battle has some fairly well defined good guys and bad guys. The good guys here are ordinary Californians who pay more in taxes than they take from government. These "net tax payers" include most employed persons and businesses. They are distinguished from "net tax receivers," those who take more from government than they pay in taxes.

The good guys elected Arnold. They sang along to his signature theme song, "We're Not Going to Take It Anymore!" (A favorite saying of Howard Jarvis, by the way). They loved Arnold's No Tax Pledge. They abhorred "business as usual" in Sacramento and, to be crude, they sent Arnold to Sacramento to kick some butt, not to get along with the forces of evil.

The fact that budget negotiations have stalled may actually be a good thing. It might give Arnold an opportunity to disengage and check his weaponry.

If he goes to war with his adversaries, is there a risk here that he will he lose some political capital? Sure. The "net tax receivers," ably represented by Speaker Fabian Nunez and ultra-liberal John Burton, will claim he's become just another heartless Republican. But the short -- and truthful -- answer to such criticism is that "I was elected Governor to follow through on one simple concept: Don't spend more money than you have." That needs to be repeated often and should end the debate, at least as far as voters are concerned.

Schwarzenegger also needs to keep something else in mind: Taxpayers care a whole lot less about government slowing down because of a budget stalemate. To most of the voters who elected Arnold, government represents primarily that entity which takes money out of their paychecks. The same is not true, however, for net tax receivers. They have far more to lose from a stalemate with the governor. It is for that reason that Arnold should never have made such a big deal about an "on time" budget. But now that that issue is moot, it may work to his advantage.

In a gathering during Arnold's inaugural, former Governor Pete Wilson -- who admits to his own series of missteps -- advocated strongly for Arnold to "use his political capital" when needed. And if his mentor's advice isn't enough, Arnold ought to consider another former Governor of California. Shortly after being elected President, Ronald Reagan did battle with the powerful Air Traffic Controller's union which was on strike. He fired them.

Now that's using political capital. CRO

copyright 2004 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association


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