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Veteran Outsider Brought In to Scour State Books

Donna Arduin, Florida budget chief, also has held posts in Michigan and New York. She is on loan to find the fat in California.

October 10, 2003|Peter Nicholas and Jeffrey L. Rabin | Times Staff Writers

To make good on a major campaign promise, Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger is turning to an outsider: a career state finance official now working in Florida, whose job will be to flush out the waste in California's budget.

Donna Arduin, budget director for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, was briefly introduced at Schwarzenegger's news conference at a Santa Monica hotel Thursday and then promptly flew to Sacramento. There was little time to linger. Schwarzenegger's transition team wants her to lead a meticulous audit of the state's $100-billion budget as a first step toward pruning state spending.

The odds would seem formidable. Arduin has never worked in California. Her staff will consist largely of aides on loan from Republican state Sen. Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga, though Schwarzenegger's staff promises that if she needs more help, she will get it.

Yet Arduin's former colleagues say the governor-elect has come up with the right person: a fiscal conservative with a Republican pedigree and a clear command of the arcana of state finances.

Before joining Bush's staff in 1999, Arduin worked as first deputy budget director for New York Gov. George Pataki from 1995 until 1999 and as chief deputy director of Michigan's budget department under Gov. John Engler from 1992 to 1994.

"She's done an extraordinary job in Michigan, New York and Florida," Schwarzenegger said. "And I want to thank Gov. Bush for sharing this great talent with us."

In Florida, Arduin is credited by some with helping Bush eliminate special interest tax breaks along with hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of legislative pork. That has antagonized some members of Florida's Legislature -- a point Arduin appears to appreciate. At a Halloween party one year, she dressed as a witch.

"She's obviously a fiscal conservative, and she believes that state and federal government should operate just like you and I have to operate -- with an available amount of funds," said Sally Bradshaw, chief of staff to Bush from 1999-'01.

Bradshaw added: "I've never met anyone with Donna's skill sets in terms of budgeting. She is in my opinion the most qualified person that the governor-elect could have chosen to spearhead this audit and focus on California's budget troubles."

Arduin, 40, spoke briefly to reporters after Schwarzenegger's news conference, his second since winning the recall election Tuesday. She is on leave from her job in Florida and is working here as a volunteer.

Encircled by reporters and TV camera crews, she said that the governor-elect wanted to know "the size of the deficit; the size of the problem."

"As somebody coming from another state," she said, "I haven't seen a clear answer to the question the governor has been asking. So, the first thing we need to do is get him the answer."

She continued: "I have worked for three very successful governors who have gotten through fiscal crises through tough decisions and job-friendly policies -- including reducing taxes -- that allowed the economies to grow and to bring jobs back to their states."

Arduin earned a bachelor of arts degree from Duke University in 1985. She then spent nearly four years at Morgan Stanley & Co., working in New York and Tokyo. Next came stints at Bankers Trust Co. and at Bank of Japan in New York, before Arduin jumped to the public sector in 1992.

Though she may be new to California, Arduin showed some seasoning when it came to dealing with the press corps.

As she was being led away from the pack of reporters, a local television reporter said: "So, Donna, four jobs in 10 years, sounds like you can't hold a job."

She didn't answer.

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