Blowing Up the Budget

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

It may not be quite “blowing up the boxes,” but "blowing up the budget” will send a similar message. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected to corral the budget beast. His announcement yesterday that he plans to veto the Rube Goldberg-style budget plan sent to him by the legislature is a righteous stand against California’s out-of-control budget process.

In December 2003, buoyed by the power of the recall election, the newly minted governor had the power to fix the problem he was elected to address—California’s unbalanced and spending-addicted budget. However, as a new governor, he chose not to use his mandate to force the necessary budget changes upon the legislature.

A second attempt to deal with California’s spending problem was to follow through with a campaign promise to scrub the entire budget and recommend changes in the way California did business – the so-called “blow up the boxes” approach. The California Performance Review, created to achieve this goal, was eventually buried under mounds of dirt thrown by interests who benefited from the status quo.

Now, five years after the historic recall, the budget beast still roams freely. Schwarzenegger’s declaration that he will veto the budget puts him on the path of tracking the beast and perhaps throwing a fence around it before he leaves office. If Schwarzenegger accomplishes ending the annual budget fiasco and attains true budget reform, his governorship will be seen as a success for achieving his major goal.

In the end, I suspect the legislature will override his veto. Will Schwarzenegger then lose his momentum by backing down from rejecting all the bills he promised to veto if his budget veto is overridden? He will have to fulfill his promise, even in the face of many of those bills passing in an override vote, if he is to maintain a strong position to force budget change in the next legislative session.

Continuing the budget standoff will be difficult for those who rely on the state budget, and no one wants to see their pain continue. But this problem should be dealt with now, instead of setting up an even more difficult scenario next year.

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