'Hey Arnold, Pick on somebody your own size!' said angry demonstrators in Sacramento, California, denouncing his plans for brutal cuts in healthcare. But critics say he is only trying to score some political point and that none of his plans will materialize. Only prolonged impasse is on the anvil, it is felt.
The Hollywood state of California might look enormously exciting for many, thanks to all the glitz and the paparazzi. But the bitter truth is its finances have broken down almost completely.
A Republican Governor like Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to be complicating the issue further with his refusal to raise taxes but go in for large scale cuts in services to the less advantaged sections.
He proposes to bridge a $19.9-billion deficit through steep cuts in education, healthcare, social services and transit.
He is hoping to receive billions of dollars in new federal money. If new federal funds don't come, the governor has proposed additional cuts that include eliminating the CalWorks welfare program and the state's large network of subsidized in-home healthcare providers for the poor, elderly and disabled. Health insurance for 900,000 poor children could also be eliminated if the federal funds don't materialize.
Even if help from Washington arrived, California would still face severe cutbacks.
Under the governor's plan, state funding formulas would be changed to reduce payments to schools and community colleges by $2.4 billion. The proposed cuts come after school spending has already been rolled back considerably and many districts have been forced to impose layoffs, eliminate programs and increase class sizes.
Schools would be given the option of reducing the academic year by up to five days to absorb the effect of the cuts. Specific programs targeted for cuts include class-size reduction.
School groups expressed outrage at the proposed cuts, after the governor vowed earlier this week in his State of the State address to protect school funding in his budget. "We are stunned and perplexed," said Kevin Gordon, a lobbyist for hundreds of school districts.
"California is not Washington. We don't have the luxury of printing money or running trillion-dollar deficits," Schwarzenegger said at a news conference Friday morning. "I refuse to raise taxes, because there are so many areas where California can be smarter, more efficient and save precious taxpayer dollars."
The governor's proposal disproportionately targets the poor, aged and disabled, while protecting industries and interests that have helped finance his campaigns, slam critics.
If only he had chosen to raise taxes, he would have been able to spread the burden more equitably, it is pointed out.
Even if federal assistance comes through, monthly welfare checks from CalWORKs would drop nearly 16 percent, for instance.
That hurts, said Tamara Cline of Ventura, a single mother who receives a CalWORKs benefit of $746 a month. She said poor families would swamp shelters and pantries.
"We would be overloading what's already overloaded," Cline said.
The muscle-flexing by the body-builder-turned-actor-turned-politician only foreshadows another year of paralysis in Sacramento, as the governor and lawmakers struggle with the latest crippling shortfall, it was reported in Los Angeles Times.
"With regard to the bulk of the budget proposal, I have one reaction: You've got to be kidding," said Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) called the proposal a "big pile of denial."
They and other Democrats derided Schwarzenegger's plan as a retread of ideas they dismissed last year. "This is a recycled budget," said Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego). "These are exactly the same proposals he made last year. We talked about them, we rejected them, we did as much as we thought we could do, and he's come back with the same ones that he had before."
So nothing much is going to change, only a prolonged battle of attrition is on the cards, it is felt.
Incidentally, instead of a vehicle fee to fund state parks, Arnold wants to raise money by allowing additional oil drilling off the Santa Barbara coast!
So much for his priorities. Environmentalists, of course, are vowing to kill the proposal.
The California State Parks Foundation (CSPF) said it rejects the Governor's proposal to eliminate core public funding for California's 278 state parks and replace it with uncertain funding from an oil drilling project that has not been approved for California, as announced in his proposed 2010-11 State Budget today...He has resurrected the Tranquillon Ridge offshore oil drilling proposal and has attempted to give this controversial and uncertain financial proposal environmental credentials by directing its proceeds to the state park system."
"Blackmail might be a better term for it," said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who chairs the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee. "He's saying I'll fund the parks if you'll open up the coast to new oil drilling."