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The Gold of Friendship

October 17, 2003

They may not be best friends yet, but the budding relationship between President Bush and Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger could considerably thaw the chill that has grown between Washington and Sacramento in the last three years. It could only help California, which, according to the California Institute for Federal Policy Research, gets just 77 cents in federal services for each dollar it sends to the federal treasury.

"I'm proud to call him friend," Bush said after the two met privately for half an hour and then appeared jointly at a rally in San Bernardino on Thursday. Schwarzenegger said "there is no greater ally that this Golden State has in Washington" than Bush.

Let us count the ways that the growth of this relationship could benefit California. It could give the state a better shot at federal assistance, particularly for homeland security, immigration costs, schooling and health care. The White House would also be more sympathetic to special California concerns, such as protection of the coastline from offshore oil drilling and the need to maintain strong anti-pollution programs.

In his campaign to succeed Democrat Gray Davis, the Republican governor-elect had said he would look to Washington for help in closing an estimated $8-billion spending gap in next year's budget. Bush, in weighing a response, may see Schwarzenegger as capable of swinging California back into play in the presidential election. Schwarzenegger said he didn't make special requests in this first meeting. However, he can't avoid such pleas for long.

There is no rule that a state should get back from Washington in federal services the amount that it pays in taxes. But that doesn't make the expectation less real. During the defense and aerospace boom, California reaped the bounty of federal payments. Now the pendulum has swung the other way.

Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson (D-Culver City) wrote to Schwarzenegger this week encouraging him to seek more federal help for security, immigration costs, transportation, Medicaid assistance and special education. California is a high-risk state in the age of terrorism, Wesson said, but gets less federal help per capita for security than any other state.

When President Clinton was wooing California, favors flowed. Perhaps if a spark of courtship revives, California will get a little better return on its investment.

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