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Officials Doubt Pitch to Bush Will Help State Much

October 10, 2003|Richard Simon and Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — So Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to press the federal government to help California out of its budget mess?

Good luck, says official Washington.

With the federal government facing a record budget deficit of its own -- and lawmakers from every other state sure to fight fiercely to protect their share of federal funds -- Schwarzenegger might have more muscle with the Democrats who control Sacramento than with his fellow Republicans, who are in power in Washington.

"He shouldn't expect a bailout," said Rep. George P. Radanovich (R-Mariposa), "because it's not going to happen."

Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan budget watchdog organization based in Arlington, Va., added that "the administration knows that if they say 'uncle' to Arnold, every other governor will be back."

"Unless the administration is prepared to give a lot more federal assistance to a lot more states, President Bush will have to be as tough with Schwarzenegger as he has been with the other governors," Bixby said.

Still, Radanovich said he expected Schwarzenegger to have a better relationship with the Republican White House than did Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat.

And Bixby noted that the governor-elect's star power could put Bush in a tight spot if the president resisted requests for help.

"It's one thing to have a lot of nationally unknown governors demanding help, and quite another to have 'The Terminator' knocking on your door with a promise to 'be back' if you say no," Bixby said.

In addition to Schwarzenegger's celebrity status, California could benefit from the Republican Party's desire for the new GOP governor to succeed, said Tim Ransdell, executive director of the California Institute for Federal Policy Research.

"Being from the same party as the president and congressional leadership certainly can't hurt," he said. "And it just might help."

After ousting Davis in Tuesday's election, Schwarzenegger said Wednesday that Bush had "promised me that he will do everything possible to help California, so I'm looking forward to working with him and asking for a lot, a lot of favors."

On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan dodged a question about what the administration might do for California.

The president looked forward to meeting with Schwarzenegger, McClellan said, "and I'm sure if the governor-elect has some issues that he wants to discuss with the president, he can do it at that time. I think that they will have a good working relationship and work together on shared priorities."

A senior campaign official for Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney said that Bush and Schwarzenegger would make a joint appearance, in either Fresno or Riverside, while the president is in California next week.

Among the first to seize upon Schwarzenegger's election as an opportunity to change the state's relationship with Washington was a group of California House Democrats.

The Democrats would like to recruit the new governor to help fight provisions of pending energy legislation that they contend go against the state's interests.

Among those is a measure backed by Bush and by lawmakers from the Midwest that would require the use of ethanol as a gasoline additive. Officials in California oppose that requirement, contending that adding ethanol would do little to reduce pollution and could sharply increase the price of gasoline in the state.

Republican lawmakers said they believed that Schwarzenegger could help to change some funding formulas.

Schwarzenegger has complained that, "for every dollar we pay in tax, we get only 77 cents back."

Part of the disparity, Ransdell said, is the result of California's being a "young state -- the portion of our population that is over age 65 is sixth-smallest in the nation -- so we naturally receive fewer dollars from the massive Social Security and Medicare programs."

But, Ransdell added, the state receives less than its fair share of funds for programs such as education, transportation and health care. It has 12% of the nation's population but receives less than that percentage in overall federal funding for those programs.

Sean Walsh, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger, said he was optimistic about getting more from Washington.

"The planets have aligned in California's favor for the first time in a very long time," he said. "You've got a Republican president, a Republican Congress, a Republican governor, and a presidential election around the corner, and a congressional delegation energized to make sure California gets its fair share.''

And, Walsh said: "We've got muscle, and we know how to use it."

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