The California State Senate adjourned at midnight, unable to pass three stopgap bills that would have saved the state $7 billion. To appease Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Democratic leaders of the state legislature hastily drew up the three complicated bills to try to stave off fiscal collapse and the necessity to begin issuing IOUs. All of them failed. The Republicans exploited the two-thirds rule once again and all three of the bills went down in 25 to 14 votes, with Senator Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) abstaining.
The two-thirds rule for passing budgets means that Schwarzenegger and the Republican minority chose to run the state off a cliff rather than strike a compromise with the majority Democrats. Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) said on the Senate floor just minutes before the midnight deadline expired that it was "unbelievable" that the Senate would allow $7 billion to evaporate into thin air in a matter of minutes. It was a sad, pathetic display of gridlock brought to us by a Republican governor and 14 Republican Senators. They once again put partisanship and the special interests to which they are beholden above the health of the state.
Now Schwarzenegger is threatening to push through yet another "furlough" day for all state workers he insists on holding hostage amounting to another 5% pay cut on top of the 10% they already absorbed. And he's holding out to dismantle parts of the CalPIRS state pension plan, which has nothing to do with the current budget crisis and will not provide any new money, hence it is not a "budget solution" at all but yet another power grab from an apparently power drunk governor.
Who knows what Schwarzenegger and the Republican Senators are going to demand next? (They already got the "open primary" that if approved is certain to add to Republican power in the state.) The state is issuing IOUs for only the second time since the Great Depression and the state's bond rating is going to be toast. The whole confrontation is an example of Naomi Klein's "shock doctrine" where right-wing free-marketeers exploit a crisis to ram through regressive changes they've wanted for years.
For weeks, Schwarzenegger said that only a bill that comprised a "full budget solution" of the $24 billion deficit would satisfy him or he would sign nothing at all. Then on Saturday, June 27, about 72 hours before the deadline he added a host of demands that would hobble the public employee unions and raid the state pension plan. Schwarzenegger made a "leverage play" (as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg called it). These "reforms" the governor threw into the mix late in the day had already been bundled together as a set of propositions in 2005 that the people of California handily rejected in a "special election" Schwarzenegger called (costing taxpayers at least $40 million).
The governor then handed Senator Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) an ultimatum: He would sign the stopgap measures and drop his insistence on a "full budget solution" (contradicting his stand he had held since May) only if Democrats capitulated to his demands to implement many of the measures that voters had already defeated at the ballot box. The sweeping changes in public policy Schwarzenegger's demands required, given their complexity and political volatility, had no chance of being rammed through the legislature without debate or hearings, and certainly not with the Republican minority and an unpopular governor holding a gun to the heads of legislators with the deadline to insolvency only hours away. Schwarzenegger's brinkmanship might satisfy his ego but it is a terrible blow to California's health and to the national economy.
Demonstrating his undying fealty to the prerogatives of corporate capital and wealthy elites, Schwarzenegger stood firm and allowed California to slide off into economic oblivion. California's demise is now dragging down the nation's economy and the whole charade was just to keep the state's richest special interests from paying their fair share of taxes. Schwarzenegger is again a political hero among the state's extreme Right and anti-tax crusaders despite his alleged soft spot for environmentalism and gay rights.
Plummeting Quality of Life
Now sit back and watch as the quality of life in California plummets: More crime and fewer law enforcement officers; more prisoners in already overflowing penitentiaries; more students crammed in dilapidated classrooms with fewer and lower-paid teachers; more kids thrown out of programs and into the streets; more layoffs and "furloughs"; more poverty without relief; more drug addicts and meth labs in "unincorporated" areas where sheriffs have been laid-off. And don't forget the crumbling infrastructure and the unkempt and unsafe state parks and young people denied the opportunity to go to college and a public health care system on the verge of collapse and a widening class divide between the richest and poorest Californians. Schwarzenegger's "legacy" will be that he tried his best to turn California into a post-apocalyptic Hellscape replicating the dystopian cinematography of one his Sci-Fi movies.
It's been a helluva ride since those heady days in 2003 when Californians were so childish and star-struck to entrust the governance of their state to a body builder/movie star who never served in elective office, (aside from winning pageants called "Mr. Olympia" and "Mr. Universe.") According to the website, "Bodybuilding Universe," Arnold's "Top Form Measurements" were: Arms: 22 inches; Chest: 57 inches; Waist: 34 inches; Thighs: 28.5 inches; Calves: 20 inches; Weight: 235 pounds. That's pretty impressive. But I don't know if it qualifies someone to be governor of California.
The California Democratic leaders, having been burned badly last February by agreeing to the stupid May 19th special election and caving in on the "open primary," finally stood their ground. They even tried to bypass the Republican minority with their own parliamentary maneuver to push through bills with a simple majority that would take effect in ninety days that do not translate into a net tax increase. Too little, too late.
All Cuts, No Taxes
It's time for Schwarzenegger to take the political heat for the budget crisis. He's acting like George W. Bush at the end of his second term: So unpopular that he figures he might as well try to push through his maximal demands. All cuts, no taxes.
Californians must pay attention to Schwarzenegger's reckless brinkmanship and turn the mirror back on him to make him accountable politically for his own actions.
Governor Schwarzenegger's wife, Maria Shriver, might pass on to her wayward husband these remarks from her uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, who had a very different view of relying on the so-called bottom line as the only measure of the quality of life:
"Our Gross National Product now soars above $800 billion a year, but that counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our streets of carnage. It counts the special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of natural wonder to chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and television programs, which glorify violence to sell toys to our children.
"The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile."
Joseph Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He's the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).
Originally published by The Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author.