True colors

Our new governor exudes charm—telegraphs charisma. He even may possess human qualities that could make him a turnkey leader for California. Unlike his predecessor, he seems, at times, willing to take decisive political action (such as granting reasonable parole requests) without fear of judgment or political consequence.

That’s why we were so heartily disappointed with his recent budget proposal. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recall pledge to go after the special interests and find bipartisan solutions to the problems facing California seems to have been little more than words he mouthed to get elected. We can say this now, judging from his quite-partisan, standard-issue Republican budget plan to bridge the state’s multibillion dollar budget gap by borrowing and going after programs for the poor and middle-class while protecting big business and the super wealthy.

Schwarzenegger’s $7 billion in cuts largely target health and welfare programs, capping enrollments in multiple programs that subsidize health insurance for poor and lower-middle-income families whose kids need it most. The Healthy Families Program takes a wallop, and so does Medi-Cal. Meanwhile, welfare benefits are reduced for about 500,000 poor families, and benefits will drop for people in the state’s welfare-to-work program.

The governor’s budget does all this while protecting most of state government and big business. Instead of even considering proposals for tax increases for the wealthy, Schwarzenegger puts his four-square, muscular support behind a fiscal strategy that cuts social services and borrows mightily with a costly $15 billion bond (that can be seen as a way to raise taxes without the appearance of doing so) to ease the pain.

The aspect of Schwarzenegger’s plan that really wounds local elected officials is the $1.3 billion in property taxes he wants to redirect from the states’ 413 city and county governments in order to make up the current $14 billion budget shortfall. Under his plan, redevelopment agencies will be unable to take on projects—the job-creating kind—that attract matching funds, attack urban blight and rehabilitate the poorer commercial and industrial areas. In Sacramento, the revitalization of the city is in jeopardy, and construction jobs will be lost. In the Bay Area, officials say a projected loss of $135 million to redevelopment agencies will wind up costing the region 13,000 jobs and $950 million in lost investment opportunities over the next two years.

Schwarzenegger is expected to hit the campaign trail in these next months to promote the bond and his overall fiscal agenda. We have little doubt that, with his acting and salesmanship skills, he’ll succeed at selling both to a majority.

But there’s more to leadership than being a good communicator on talk radio. Also crucial is the ability to take political risks—to use compromise on behalf of a vision for the greater good of all, not just Republicans. Unfortunately, Schwarzenegger’s budget plan does not inspire confidence in his bipartisanship or in his humanness. As Shakespeare said, it’s not words but actions that are most eloquent.