California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently submitted a “budget” to the legislature that eliminates CalWORKS, the state’s highly successful welfare-to-work program that is needed now more than ever. This move would make California the only state in the nation to dismantle its safety net. He’s even willing to throw away the federal matching funds CalWORKS receives and to toss 1 million children (who make up about 76 percent of the program) into desperate poverty.
Destroying the state’s only work-training program in a period of 12.5 percent unemployment and record home foreclosures might sound pretty extreme but Schwarzenegger still enjoys press coverage that paints him as a “moderate,” most recently in the form of a 1,500-word love letter by Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times. If any journalist bothers to look at his record it should be clear that Schwarzenegger doesn’t really believe in the public sector. He has repeatedly said that government cannot do anything worthwhile for society. He was a cheerleader for the Bush-Cheney policies of deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. He has recklessly held the state’s budget hostage to ram through policies that won’t take effect until long after he exits the stage, policies which have virtually no support outside his coterie of sycophants.
No California governor, not Ronald Reagan, not George Deukmejian, not Pete Wilson, has so bludgeoned the state’s employees. After “furloughing” public workers, which was the equivalent of a 14 percent pay cut, Schwarzenegger’s latest gambit is to cut their pay down to the level of the federal minimum wage, which is lower than California’s. Schwarzenegger is so committed to this abuse that he is literally going to court to force the State Comptroller John Chiang to comply.
Chiang has been trying to reason with the extremists who run the governor’s office that it’s technically impossible to implement the plan given the state’s decrepit computerized payroll system and that the action would also violate federal labor law. Undeterred, Schwarzenegger pushes on without any rational purpose (since it will end up costing the state more in the long run), and without any concern for the lives of 200,000 hard-working Californians who, through no fault of there own, find themselves once again in Schwarzenegger’s cross-hairs. It’s nothing more than holding state workers hostage to extort Democratic legislators into doing his bidding.
The Democratic “leaders” in Sacramento during Schwarzenegger’s reign continue to capitulate to him. From Don Perata to Darrell Steinberg to Fabian Nunez to Karen Bass to John Perez – all of them have failed the voters who elected them; they’ve failed to be advocates for their core supporters; and they’ve failed to stand up and show some guts when the time called for it.
Because the Legislature must produce a “supermajority” of 67 percent to pass a budget, a tiny and irresponsible Republican minority has just enough seats to block any budget it doesn’t like – which is any budget that is protective of public institutions. Schwarzenegger then uses his executive control over the Legislature to make insane demands like eliminating welfare and impoverishing the state’s public sector workforce. A phony “standoff” ensues until Democratic “leaders” come crawling on their hands and knees, which they always do, only to seal themselves off behind closed doors to “negotiate” a budget. When they emerge from the governor’s office the result is always the same: the public sector gets fleeced again.
Each year at budget time, Schwarzenegger divides and conquers the Democrats’ political base by pitting public employee unions and other liberal advocacy groups against each other. He is currently once again terrorizing state workers and their families to get changes in the way their pension plan is managed that would not take effect until years from now, long after he is back home in his Jacuzzi smoking his pricey cigars.
All of this pain and suffering inflicted on the people who work for the Great State of California is so that the top 1 percent of taxpayers, about 150,000 individuals, who have nearly doubled their share of the state’s total income since 1993, don’t have to pay any additional taxes. It’s class warfare. Twenty years of privatizing and deregulating have resulted not only in the putrefaction of California’s public institutions, but also the hardening of class lines and the cementing of an oligarchy.
In a real democratic republic – res-publica – the Democrats who hold solid majorities in both chambers of the Legislature would produce their own budget, even an ersatz one, and then send it to the governor for his signature or veto. They could send him virtually the same budget over and over again for a period of days, weeks, or months. Headlines would read: “Governor Schwarzenegger Vetoes Another Budget,” followed by op-eds asking: “Why Doesn’t Schwarzenegger Compromise?” Let the Governor veto the budget a thousand times. Each time the Democratic leaders could tell the press how “disappointed” they are with his intransigence.
The Democrats could also highlight the pain and suffering – even in the private sector – that Schwarzenegger’s budget extremism has caused. Instead, the Democratic “leaders” choose to go behind closed doors in the governor’s office where they always get taken for a ride. That’s a hell of a way to run the world’s eighth largest economy with a population larger than Canada’s. It’s ironic that President Obama has gone to great lengths to cultivate mutually beneficial economic ties with the G-20 nations while the nation passively sits by and watches as California drops into the Pacific Ocean.
If we’re going to have a form of corporate feudalism in California then we might as well turn over the reins of power to a real monarch. The billionaire princess, Meg Whitman, who wants to be governor as a steppingstone toward becoming the first woman president, is perfect for that regal distinction. She has already spent over $90 million of her own money to buy the governorship. And it looks like she bribed one of the nation’s top Republican strategists, Michael Murphy, to join her campaign with a million dollar “investment” in his production company. Her Majesty is currently running a slick TV commercial attacking her opponent, Attorney General Jerry Brown, which has the production qualities of a Pepsi ad buy.
Whitman wants to fire 40,000 state workers, hack off another $15 billion from the budget, privatize government services including the pension plan, and lavish more tax cuts on big corporations and her rich Republican friends. In addition to her hit pieces on Brown, Whitman is also running what the advertising executives on the “Tuesday Team” of Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign used to call “feel-good ads.”
We see wind turbines and redwood forests, beaches and exciting cityscapes, with Meg in soft-focus sharing with her subjects in an intimate setting a string of saccharine Reaganisms. She very well could be the next governor of California.