In his recent state of the state address, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger showed that he might just be the reformer California needs after all.
After an inauspicious start riddled with more-of-the-same politics, it was refreshing to hear Schwarzenegger identify key problems facing the Golden State: overall spending, pension and prison reform, and redistricting.
Schwarzenegger told legislators that if they don’t pass his plans for reform, he’ll take them to the people in the form of initiatives. Coming from a popular figure with real political clout among the populace, this is no idle threat.
When it comes to spending, legislators just don’t seem to grasp the basic fact that they are spending California into bankruptcy. It absolutely cannot continue.
While educators are screaming that the governor is “robbing” them, his budget actually contains a 7.1 percent spending increase for education. The stark reality is that California doesn’t have the money to keep all the promises legislators have made over the years, a fact that Schwarzenegger has acknowledged.
“… For years we have been promising all these kinds of things, but we don’t have the money,” he said when his budget was unveiled. “We have to live within our means.”
Another way for California to live within its means is to rein in the overly generous pension program that state employees enjoy. Far more generous than any private sector employee can ever hope to see, it’s high time that we even the playing field. Why should taxpayers be forced to pay for pension programs the likes of which they will never enjoy?
In 2000, Schwarzenegger said, California’s pension obligation was $160 million. This year, it is $2.6 billion.
Schwarzenegger is also taking a long overdue look at California’s prison system, which employs 54,000 people and spends $6 billion each year.
Perhaps Schwarzenegger’s best idea is to force legislators to face fiscal reality with a constitutional amendment that would implement across-the-board spending cuts if revenues don’t live up to rosy predictions.
Because California’s legislators clearly don’t understand that when income drops, spending has to drop, it might well be time to take that responsibility from them.
In fact, California legislators, so fat and happy from gerrymandered redistricting plans they oversee that ensure incumbents are re-elected, may have made themselves irrelevant.
To fix the inherent conflict of interest of the current system, Schwarzenegger has proposed redistricting reform that would take the responsibility for redrawing districts after every census out of legislator’s hands and give it to a panel of retired judges.
We may not like all of the details of Schwarzenegger’s plans, but we’re heartened that he certainly understands the big picture: California’s budget status quo has to change.
If the legislature doesn’t adopt Schwarzenegger’s reforms and budget proposals, he has promised to take his plans to the people. If that happens, you can expect lamentations from those who benefit from the status quo.
Let’s hope that California taxpayers, who pay through the teeth for the broken status quo, will be smarter than our legislators. Judging by the legislature’s record of the past several years, that’s not asking for much.