Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his horde of retrograde Republican lawmakers got everything they wanted in a horrific bargain with Democratic legislative leaders that has ended (for the time being) California’s budget impasse. Not only will there not be a single cent raised for the state by taxing oil or tobacco, Schwarzenegger and the Republicans privatized $1 billion from the workman’s compensation insurance system, gutted all levels of the education budget, pauperized state workers with a third “furlough” day each month, raided the coffers of local governments, and even gave away the first new oil-drilling leases off the Santa Barbara coast in 40 years.
How any of these steps help the state in any way in anybody’s guess.
“We had one hand tied behind our back,” Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said, because the Republicans used the governor’s office and their slender minority in the Senate to take any tax increases off the table. This maneuver left the hapless Democrats with nothing really to “negotiate” except how to use accounting gimmicks to make the dismantling of the public sector in a time of recession appear marginally acceptable to the public. The governor wanted to “eliminate” the state’s welfare system. Instead, it’s only gutted. The Democrats gave the Republicans 99.99 percent of everything they wanted. I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that the representatives of the Democratic majority held out for that .01 percent! Yippee!
Things could have been worse. The Democrats could have agreed to shred the public employee pension system as Schwarzenegger had originally demanded. Last February the Democrats agreed to put the “open primary” on the 2010 ballot, which only benefits Republicans and explains why they wanted it so badly. I suppose we could have lost another structural reform. Just wait until October when the next set of budget “negotiations” begins anew. When Arnold Schwarzenegger calls an agreement “a really great, great accomplishment” you know average Californians are in for a fleecing.
The $1 billion the Republicans have stripped from the workman’s compensation insurance system is an experiment in privatization every bit as reckless as the privatizing of the energy grid, which led Californians to become hostages to the machinations of Enron, Duke, and Reliant energy corporations. The workman’s compensation insurance market now will become more volatile because so many Enron-types are going to be gaming the system the net effect will be to raise premiums on businesses doing relatively hazardous work in the state. Why the Republicans do not consider this privatization scheme a “job killer” when they do so when talking about any small tax increase on oil or tobacco is probably because there are “special interests” tied to the GOP that are licking their chops right now about all the money they’re going to make off gaming the system.
Downsizing public education, including the University of California and the California State University systems, means the state is going to fall behind not only in science and technology (as 300 U.C. professors stated in an open letter to Schwarzenegger), but also impair the state’s ability to recover from what everybody agrees is the worst economic slump since the Great Depression. Without an educated workforce there will be no recovery.
Pauperizing the state workers with a third “furlough” day each month will lead to more home foreclosures, dry up consumer demand in parts of the state, cause bitter conflicts with labor unions and undermine the quality of life for the people of the state.
Raiding the coffers of the county and municipal governments to the tune of $4.7 billion at a time when many cities and counties are struggling with their own budget deficits will further undermine local services and deteriorate roads, infrastructure and even public safety.
And drilling off the earthquake-prone coast of Santa Barbara for the first time in 40 years is an environmental catastrophe just waiting to happen that could cost the state billions of dollars.
Lost in all of the anti-tax euphoria that the Howard Jarvis/Grover Norquist/Tea Bagger crowd has imposed on us is the fact that state workers, teachers, and local government employees all provide vital services to the citizens of the state. These draconian budget cuts will hurt the public and the politicians who run both parties are eventually going to hear about it. The next time in a campaign when you hear a Republican talking about how he or she “values” education or any other public good remember what they did to California in 2009.
We should also note that all this budget cutting without any serious attempt to raise new revenues works to the disadvantage of the federal policies the Obama Administration designed to lift the nation out of its current economic crisis. The Republicans have won a stunning victory in the most populated state even when all they have to offer us at the national level are “leaders” like Mark Sanford, John Ensign, and Sarah Palin.
Originally published by The Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author