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We Work Hard for No Money

by Mytheos Holt, published

Just when everything seemed to be going so well, the budget legislative analyst's office had to puncture our little balloon of joy. Well, not joy, unless one's overjoyed at tax increases and spending cuts, but hey, at least something was punctured.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "the plan that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers approved last month to fill California's giant budget hole has already fallen out of balance with a projected $8-billion shortfall, the Legislature's nonpartisan budget analyst said Friday."

Lovely! So glad we know that money we didn't have was spent so...wait, $8 billion? You mean there's fully 20 percent of the original budget shortfall that we still haven't dealt with? My, what cheap "nonpartisan" compromises will we have to make to get out of this one?

The drastic news has sent Schwarzenegger's office careening back into Panic Mode, especially where the governor's May special election idea is concerned. According to the Times, "The dour projection is likely to complicate Schwarzenegger's effort to win voter approval for a package of budget-related ballot measures scheduled for a special election May 19." That is, it might mean that the passage of the ballot measures Schwarzenegger has proposed might be completely impossible, as opposed to simply unlikely.

Larry Gerson, professor of political science at San Jose State, speaks for us all when he points out that the new insolvency will give opponents of the budget "a tremendous argument" against it, as does Jon Coupal, President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers' Association. Coupal is quoted by the Times as saying that "Their campaign was based on a shaky foundation as far as credibility goes . . . and this isn't going to make it any better."

Amen. This shortfall may, however, have positive political consequences for Schwarzenegger's office. That is, they might force the governor to realize that, rather than wasting his time with insignificant, counterproductive do-overs of actions that lost him tremendous political capital in the past, what he ought to be doing is fixing the budget with good, old-fashioned executive prerogative.

When a ship is sinking, there is no vote on whether to release the lifeboats, and if Schwarzenegger's plan is really the solution to the budget crisis, then he ought to release it regardless of the predispositions of California's spending happy electorate, who have already proven themselves to be untrustworthy where money is concerned.

But, naturally, one could point out that this sort of approach has its dangers, not least of all the fact that Schwarzenegger is not omniscient -- in fact, he's often quite the opposite. If Schwarzenegger assumes the sort of massive executive power needed to steamroller all these measures past California's people, that will in turn set a precedent that other governors can assume that sort of massive power in times of crisis, thus giving future governors a political incentive to maximize their own power by dancing on the precipice of crisis forever.

This would be true if Schwarzenegger were avoiding an election in order to get his plan passed. However, this is not Canada, where politicians can suspend elections because they don't like the results.

Schwarzenegger has absolutely no positive obligation to call a special election and voluntarily put himself in danger, especially at a time when stability in California's leadership is necessary, and decisiveness is mandated. Obviously, Schwarzenegger is not the optimal leader to hold down this stability, but at least he has some measure of understanding about how money ought not to be spent, and can act decisively if necessary. One cannot say the same for California's electorate. $8 billion is a lot of money, so let's not waste anymore finding out just how much California's people don't want to pay for it.

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