California’s budget crisis has moved from a hemorrhage to a slow implosion, and now desperation is clearly setting in as the state slashes trademark programs. As of November, the state has slashed programs that made the state distinctive; first virtually eliminating the “public” part of its public education system, and now, dealing a blow that may take out one of the state’s most successful l--and cost effective-- recycling programs.
If you’re like most Californians, you are familiar with the multicolored domes comprising recycling centers, commonly found in strip mall parking lots. Getting a nickel or dime back for bottles is almost a law of nature in California. However now, while the recyclables still have redemption value, the state has cut the funds that support the operation of recycling centers.
The cuts are strange, especially considering that the program is self supporting, one of the only financially sustainable state programs there is. Consumers pay a CRV tax, and so do manufacturers, but consumers can get their tax refunded and the program keeps the money from the manufacturers. This program covered its own costs and then some. It was doing so well in fact, that the legislature borrowed money from the fund- a total of between 400 and 600 million dollars since 2002. With half a billion dollars in state takings- and zero dollars in state repayment- no wonder the program is forced to reduce its services. Governor Schwarzenegger not only permitted the legislature to take additional loans from the ‘bottle’ fund, he vetoed Senator Wolk’s recent legislation that would have provided for money to keep the bottle fund going. He also required that any money in the future would require CRV on liquor, something he knows California’s powerful wine lobbies would fight vigorously. Schwarzenegger also previously vetoed expanding the types of drink containers included in CRV taxes, another source of money that could have bulked up the bottle fund.
What can we make of this? Does Schwarzenegger have it out for recycling? We could call this triage, as the governor does his best to redirect all monies towards the general fund. However, it is best cast as a demonstration of both Governor Schwarzenegger’s true conservative nature as well as a demonstration of his general incompetence. The man does not know how to manage either legislative spending or statewide budgets and had no prior experience of budget management before he became governor.
Politically, we see Schwarzenegger’s truest colors in the hottest of water, as he vetoes new taxes to support a multipurpose state program that he simultaneously raids. The bottle fund was fiscally solvent and acted as a silver bullet by providing green jobs, support for at risk youth, a source of income for the homeless and nonprofits, and reduces environmental harm by decreasing waste. There are no rational reasons to reduce such a program.
Although the governor may appear independent he is a hard line conservative. He endorses enough environmental protection to rile conservatives and keep liberals slightly bewildered, but reduces social benefits at every opportunity possible. Before this, it was teachers, firefighters and nurses unions (those greedy firefighters). Now, we see Schwarzenegger holding the line on taxes for the wealthy and making up for the shortfall by decimating trademark state programs: its public education system, recycling programs and state parks.