Maybe you've seen the TV commercial. "Sacramento" is asking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign a budget that "raises your taxes and spends money we do not have." Schwarzenegger is "standing firm." It's an act, and not a very good one.
The governor and legislative leaders are in what Californians can only hope are the final days of negotiations to close a $26-billion budget gap. Democrats went through their empty gesture a month ago, seeking to fill the hole with taxes on oil extraction and tobacco sales. But they knew those wouldn't fly -- and they didn't -- and there is currently no tax proposal being discussed in budget talks, regardless of Schwarzenegger's claims to the contrary.
What he's trying to do instead is to portray the three additional post-deadline weeks that the state budget has been out of balance as time well spent. That's debatable at best.
If those three weeks really helped the state crack down on supposed waste, fraud and abuse, we'll gladly take it, but we have several serious qualms. First, the savings from many of these reforms may, with luck, just offset the $1.5 billion to $3 billion the state lost by blowing its June 30 deadline, stopping cash payments to vendors and issuing IOUs with interest. So what was gained? The governor might answer that savings kick into future years as well, and that's great -- if there really are such savings to be had. County welfare officials have rejected Schwarzenegger's blithe assertion, for example, that many people in the state's welfare-to-work program aren't really looking for work and, without reforms, never will. CalWorks clients in Los Angeles County are lining up to grab the temporary and part-time jobs made available through the state program.