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Matthew N. Klink - Contributor

Matthew N. Klink is a writer and political consultant who works for Republican candidates at the federal, state and local level. He can be reached at [go to Klink index]

Shining A Light on the State Legislature
Liberals are addicted to spending...
[Matthew N. Klink] 12/11/03

"Schwarzenegger handed first major legislative defeat." "State budget plan rejected." These represent a sampling of the headlines that greeted Californians this past Saturday.

It should come as no surprise that "negotiations" between Gov. Schwarzenegger and Sacramento Democrats came to a grinding halt this past Friday afternoon. In spite of repeated conversations between both sides, newspapers throughout the state reported that negotiations had broken down and, consequently, the Legislature missed the Friday midnight deadline to enact a much-needed spending cap and to put a $15 billion bond initiative on the March ballot.

How many reasonable Californians believed that Democrats, who hold large majorities in both houses of the State Legislature, were capable of actually working with Republican governor to solve our state's budget mess? If you did, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.

Donna Arduin, Gov. Schwarzenegger's finance director, wrote the following in last week's Wall Street Journal, "Over the past five years, California government has spent $23 billion more than it has taken in. Over the past five years, revenues have increased by 25% while state expenditures have risen by 43%." Democrats in the Legislature have proven they are incapable of grasping the gravity of California's budget mess - a fiscal nightmare that is 100% their Party's doing.

Ex Gov. Gray Davis and ultra-liberal Legislative Democrats engaged in a spending orgy - the likes of which California has never known. To now close this gap, Sacramento Democrats know only one solution - raise taxes on anyone and everyone, rich, non-rich, and businesses, large and small. Budget cuts are unheard-of because in the fish bowl that is the State Legislature, every program is essential and every bureaucrat, including those hired during a hiring freeze, perform a function critical to the state's daily operation.

While news outlets tried to convince Californians that differences over Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed $15 billion bond were the negotiations' undoing, what really torpedoed the discussions between Democrats and Gov. Schwarzenegger were his proposal to cap state spending in the long-term - in short, to restore fiscal discipline to a state that is, in spending terms, out of control. Schwarzenegger battled with Democrats over the current and future size of California's government - a battle that is far from over.

Democrats in the State Legislature are addicted to spending - spending that benefits key liberal special interest groups (state and local government unions, teachers unions and others) who then fill the campaign coffers of Democrats with contributions. It's a vicious cycle.

Public education is a classic example, where we spend more and more every year on our public schools and where "historic gains" are measured in single-digit increases in state test results. And even then, California public school children lag in math and English scores, dropout rates are still high and the majority of public school graduates are ill-prepared to move forward with everyday life.

Governor Schwarzenegger's state spending cap proposal is simple and straightforward. It literally sets a maximum amount that could be spent in future years. Schwarzenegger's proposal would set the "baseline," or the threshold level for the future size of government, at $72 billion. This $72 billion figure would necessitate some budget cuts now - cuts that will be made anyway in the upcoming budget. Schwarzenegger's proposal allows the baseline to be adjusted for inflation and growth in the state's population, so greater amounts of money will be available in the future - but within defined limits… and it is these limits that bother the Democrats.

Democrats, on the other hand, wanted to set the baseline at $83 billion - enough to accommodate the current bloated budget and, according to Rob Stutzman, the governor's communications director, would "only institutionalize overspending." This proclivity toward bloat is the essence of California's problem. Spend-happy Democrats still don't believe they have done anything wrong and that nothing needs to change, except tax rates, which need to go up.

Gov. Schwarzenegger's historic victory on October 7, 2003 went a long way toward shining a light on an out-of-control State Legislature. As with any creature that's used to living in the dark, when hit by light - in this case public scrutiny - these critters scurry for the safety darkness. Last Friday's "missed opportunity" may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Hopefully, Schwarzenegger will learn that if he truly wants to change Sacramento's culture, he had better make his case directly to the people - and he must do so by shining a light on the State Legislature's shenanigans.

In Donna Arduin's words, "We (the Schwarzenegger Administration) didn't create this crisis, but we are prepared to end it." For all of California, we certainly hope so.

copyright 2003 Matthew N. Klink




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