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Los Angeles | Patt Morrison

Reporting the Facts and Hard Choices of Prop. 57

March 16, 2004|Patt Morrison

First, a disclaimer: This column is produced and written by ... me.

It is not a print version of the fake TV "news reports" that the Bush administration has been manufacturing to puff its own Medicare law, and then sends out free to local TV stations either gullible enough or poor enough to air them as "news."And although I do sometimes play myself on television, I am a real newspaper reporter, writing this column.

And now, the news:

Folks, you won an election, not a lottery.

Passing Proposition 57 doesn't mean there's another $15 billion to spend any way you like. It's a refi, not a windfall.

If you refinanced your house, you'd consolidate your debts, pay off old bills, wouldn't you?.

Same with the state: Nearly $9 billion of the $15 billion is for consolidating and paying bills -- the deficit. Maybe another $3 billion to pay the bills you know are coming due next year. Some of that was your own fault -- you went a little crazy with the plastic, didn't you? The same with state spending, including those $100 DMV vehicle registration refund checks. A hundred here, a hundred there -- pretty soon you're talking real money.

There's a few billion left. Do you use it to fix up the house, stop deferring that deferred maintenance? The longer you wait, the more it'll cost when you get around to it. (In Sacramento, that could mean putting back into the highway repair fund some of the $2 billion the state pinched to cover the deficit.)

And you've also got that huge medical insurance bill, because your company doesn't offer it. Insurance helped last year when your kid broke her arm, but this year you can't make the premiums. So do you let the insurance lapse and keep your fingers crossed that she doesn't tumble off her bike again?

Donna Arduin, Arnold Schwarzenegger's finance director, plays doctor here with her budget diagnosis: "When you have a patient that is critically ill, there are three steps that need to be taken. Stop the bleeding. Sustain their condition. And put them on the road to recovery."

What does that mean for the state's medical costs? Should it spend on one really sick patient the money set aside for prevention for 10 healthy patients so they don't land in the hospital too? Is that wise? Is it compassionate? Can we afford both?

From now until the end of June, when a state budget must be signed, sealed and delivered, the busloads of people arriving at the state Capitol won't be coming to take pictures of the big white dome.

From the governor's corner window, it will look like Lourdes has moved to Capitol Park.

They'll be on crutches and in wheelchairs. They'll be very old and very young, students who can't afford to study, AIDS patients, poor men with prostate cancer, children with leukemia cared for by a state project that began the same year that Lindbergh flew the Atlantic. All these programs have been cut, or may be cut, or capped, on the "lose $17 billion by summer swimsuit diet" budget.

Who among them will Gov. Schwarzenegger be saying "no" to, now that he's said "no" to new taxes?

When the little guy lobbies -- unless he's got a union or a good organization -- he does it on the lawn. When the big guy lobbies, he does it in the big offices.

When the little guy wants help, he asks the government to write a check. When the big guy wants help, he asks the government to write a law. The little guy airs his gripes on the evening news. The big guy buys his own ads.

This isn't D.C. California can't make its own money, and there is no guns-and-butter quandary. The bulk of California's budget is already butter -- education and social services.

Early in his governorship, when reality barged in on his sunny "we can have it all" philosophy, Schwarzenegger held the line against fellow Republicans who wanted yet more cuts. "I'm not going to cut dog food for blind people," he said -- meaning guide dogs' food.

Like the applause-o-meter on "Queen for a Day," the governor and the Legislature must decide which poor are the more deserving. Even Steve Westly, the Democratic state controller with the Bobby Kennedy hair, who was joined at the hip campaigning with Schwarzenegger for Proposition 57, expects the tone to change "as reality sets in as to how painful some of the cuts will be."

The ugliest part is that, as happened in the supermarket strike and the transit strike, the state's budget wars will pit the working class against the working poor.

Everybody, pretend it's Lent. Give up something. Oh, wait -- it IS Lent.

Democrats: Lead the way to fix workers' comp. Don't defend the indefensible. Getting rid of the rip-offs will only make the program easier to defend.

Republicans: Taxes are not Janet Jackson's breast. Stop hyperventilating. There are good taxes and bad taxes.

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