It’s guaranteed. No one is going to like Gov. Schwarzenegger’s revised budget when it’s released today, not even Gov. Schwarzenegger.
According to advance reports, it’s likely to eliminate key health and human services programs and make deeper cuts than are wise, given the recession. It’s a budget unworthy of California.
But such a budget could be very useful to California. In fact, the nastier and meaner it is, the better it may be for California. How’s that? Because the state is so stuck in an endless cycle of budget deficits, cuts and accounting gimmicks that an embarrassingly awful budget proposal may serve two goals.
1. Securing more federal money for California
Let’s agree, among just us 38 million-plus Californians, on the following talking point: we’re not asking for a bailout. We just want our fair share from Washington – which is, to say, billions and billions more than we’re currently getting.
Which is why you should expect Gov. Schwarzenegger’s budget to be particularly stingy in areas that will get the attention of people in Congress. Programs with federal matches are usually a dumb target for cuts (since you lose the match), but not in these desperate times. Cutting programs that are federal in nature is a way to point fingers at the feds, and create pressure for them to come up with more money. Is that sort of childish? Heck, yes. Is it worth trying? Sure-what else we got?
2. Making the case for total reform of the budget process
A budget that everyone hates is the best way to make a case for budget reform. Expect Schwarzenegger to point out that he’s not giving us the budget proposal he’d like – he’s giving us the budget the system forces him to give us. And he’s right. He can’t raise taxes – the two-thirds vote allows Republicans to block that. (And even when Republicans go along, as they did in February 2009, voters can veto tax increases, as they did in the May 2009 special election).
He also should say, yet again, that he’d like to cut spending more strategically and rationally but is hemmed in – by voter-approved constitutional amendments, by court decisions and by interest group power.
Then, it’d be nice to see him say that he won’t sign a budget without real budget reform. What should that reform be? It’s far from perfect, but the California Forward reform plan would be a nice target for him to point at.
Drawing a hard line on budget reform would help him get more money from the feds-by showing the state is serious about fixing how it operates. The danger of such a strategy is personal; Schwarzenegger makes a useful scapegoat for all the people who don’t want reform. What does he have to lose? He’s already lost his popularity. And if he made that threat – and stuck to it – he’d be doing the state a final service.