For Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's final act, or at least the opening scene of his final act, he has proposed pulling the rug and then the floor itself from under millions of ill, addicted, unemployed and underskilled Californians. In a year in which he had few options, he chose the worst one.
It's the worst not merely because the result would be shockingly inhumane, eliminating basic safety-net services at precisely the time they are most needed and unraveling the state's historic commitment to help the less fortunate. Schwarzenegger, to his credit, is not one of those who dismiss human services as an unaffordable luxury or a misuse of public money. He warned that his plan to eliminate the $19.1-billion budget gap would be "ugly." He wasn't kidding.
But even if the state were to decide this year to become mean as well as lean, the governor's budget is a bad one because it indulges in buck-passing and, in one of Schwarzenegger's favorite phrases, kicking the can down the road.
For example, the state's welfare-to-work program is not merely a big favor that some members of society do for others when they can afford it. Unemployable parents and other adults cost the state a lot of money when they end up on the street. We as a state have discovered that it's a better use of our money to encourage welfare recipients to pick up the basic skills that we failed to provide them, or they failed to learn, in public schools, and to use those skills to find and keep a job. If welfare-to-work is eliminated, California is not just being cruel, it is being foolish, because the costs of an unemployable adult population will continue to mount and the bill will be presented again and again in future budgets, although perhaps disguised as county police, jail and court costs.