Politics & Policy

Raw Deal

Arnold Schwarzenegger's big-spending gambit.

Of course, everyone knew that Arnold Schwarzenegger was no Ronald Reagan. But for a while, if one donned the political equivalent of “beer goggles” and squinted hard, Schwarzenegger’s pitch about lower taxes, smaller government, and reform seemed pretty darned attractive, especially in California.

But everything changed when Arnold’s “reform agenda” was unceremoniously defeated in last November’s special election. Now, there is a “new” Arnold Schwarzenegger, brought to heel by his Democratic adversaries, and he was on full display last night during California’s State of the State Address.

In the wake of the special election, Arnold pledged more “bipartisan cooperation.” Obviously, he wasn’t kidding. He’s become so committed to getting along with the Democrats that he’s effectively become one of them. In recent days, he’s proposed to raise the minimum wage, import cheap prescription drugs, obtain a $50 billion infrastructure bond, and spend $428 million on expanding after-school programs to every California elementary and middle school–all propositions that he formally set forth in his State of the State Address.

In fact, it seems that Arnold is going so far as to appeal to Democrats by aping one of their best-loved governors. Pat Brown is renowned for presiding over construction of California’s highway system, a massive state water project, and the ascent of the University of California’s academic prominence. And to hear Arnold lay out his plans for 2006, he intends to make Brown look like a piker.

The governor proposes to oversee the construction of roads, courts, jails, schools, mental hospitals–and the fortification of ports, levees, and power plants. The plan would be partially financed by the voter-approved sale of $70 billion of bonds over the next decade, totaling more than California’s outstanding tax-supported debt; the cost of the entire plan comes in at a whopping $222 billion.

The Arnold Schwarzenegger who last year pledged to cut spending and reorganize the government now seems intent on simply subsidizing it, and its workers, as generously as he possibly can. “We need more roads, more hospitals, more schools, more nurses, more teachers, more police and more firefighters, more water, more energy, more ports, more, more more.” Now that’s an agenda that the Democrats–and their union masters–can embrace.

If he keeps it up, every big spender in the state will be thrilled; once again, the taxpayers will be left holding the bag. As Arnold Schwarzenegger discards his “ersatz Reagan” identity and morphs into an “ersatz Brown,” it’s worth remembering that when his new political role model left office, only 2.2 percent of the state’s general fund was devoted to debt service.

But for the new Arnold, the history is immaterial. It’s always been clear that the governor wants to do something “big”–but last night it became apparent that, if the plans are ambitious enough, the particulars (and the principles) don’t really matter.

Carol Platt Liebau is an attorney, political analyst, and guest radio-talk-show host. Her blog may be found at www.CarolLiebau.blogspot.com.


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