Conan the Barbarian laid out a proposed budget for the Golden State with $12.4 billion in budget cuts to help close the $19.1 billion budget deficit. This spectacle was every bit as much show business as the first time Arnold Schwarzenegger played the part.
Here in California we love larger than life characters for Governor, but as insurance against foolishness while they can propose all manner of things we give them little authority to actually do anything. No, the Governor’s job in California is to incite the public and throttle the Legislature.
So, on cue as if they have practiced this act many times before, Legislative leaders professed shock that the Governor would propose such draconian cuts to services and public spending to bail them out of their profligate spending ways. They promised the targeted causes that really dominate state government that they will be protected—wink, wink—keep those campaign contributions flowing if you want to retain my protection—-err, I mean affection.
And so life on the dole goes on in the Golden State. Arnold’s offense to public decency has been to point out the obvious—-hello! We’re running out of money!!!! This puts the Democrats in a serious bind. To save the social services safety net constituencies of political activists back home they have worked so hard to grow they must throw public employee unions, pension benefits and staffing levels under the bus.
In this state equivalent of the ‘guns or butter’ argument this is a no-win deal for the Democrats. Let’s face it, in this economy with unemployment running 10% Golden State voters are feeling a little tarnished. It is tough to sell the generous defined benefit plans which allow state workers to retire at 55 on 60% of their take home pay AND then turn around and go back to work, maybe even for the state and double dip.
And Arnold has some leverage since most of the major state union contracts have expired with no deal in sight from negotiations since union leaders think they can just wait Arnold out and the Democrats will save them when Jerry Brown gets elected Governor.
The Governor is telling the Legislature it does not matter who is elected Governor since the problem remains the same. There are no gimmicks left, no more room to wiggle out of facing the truth. California must make tough choices to bring down spending and cure the structural deficit problem which plagues the state each year and sends it over the cliff in every down economy.
It may sound callous to pit the unions against the poor. To read the press reports you’d think Conan was slaughtering the infidels as in the movies. Instead, he proposed cuts of:
- 13% in health and human services including the insurance programs the Federal government says it will pick up in ObamaCare to save $26.7 billion.
- 12% in corrections which has been bloated from pressures from one of the state’s most powerful unions and become so badly managed that the Federal courts put corrections medical care under Federal receivership. These changes would save $8.3 billion but shifts the burden by sending as many as 15,000 inmates to county jails to reduce state prison populations enough to get out from under the court orders.
- 2% or $35.2 billion from K-12 education spending is provoking outcries from the teachers unions and pink slips to thousands of teachers as a result of two previous years of budget cuts. These cuts are made worse by the state rules which mandate virtually everything and give local school boards little flexibility. While teachers are being laid off for lack of money the teachers union is demanding pay increases and threatening strikes. They must be listening in Greek!
But higher education—one of the most bloated bureaucracies in the State—would see an 11% INCREASE in spending or about $1billion more as a potent reminder to all of the power of institutions grown so large and entrenched that they dare not be trifled with seriously for long.
Or he says, the Legislature can reform pensions, doubling employee contributions, raising retirement age from 55 to 67 for new employees, end double dipping, packing benefits at the end and other gimmicks and shift to a defined contribution plan instead of the current defined benefit plan.
So far there is no reaction from the candidates for Governor. They, no doubt, are waiting to see how badly Conan is battered for playing his part. Or praying that he will fix the problem so they do not have to do so on their watch. More likely they realize that this is just show business and the real decision making will take place behind closed doors as deals are cut and the public interest is traded off for political expediency pushing as much pain as possible into the future when it will be Meg or Jerry or Steve’s problem next year.
Sometimes I think the answer is to turn to the State Lottery.
We’ll draw two tickets and those selected must flip a coin. The winner gets $ 1 million and the loser gets to be Governor.
As for the State Legislature we would also draw lottery tickets—one for each senator and Assembly member. Each would receive $250,000 as their prize—but they only get it AFTER they balance the state budget and go back to their day jobs. Miss the deadline for passing the budget and you get NOTHING!
I bet things would work better.