California Governor Tries Washington Monument Ploy

January 15, 2008

With California running out of borrowing options to cover huge budget deficits stretching back nearly a decade, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger got everyone’s attention with proposed budget cuts last week:

Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget-cutting mechanisms include:

  • A 10 percent decrease in education funding, including $4.4 billion in cuts from K-12 education and $1.13 billion from higher education.
  • The closing of 48 of the state’s 280 parks.
  • A reduction of $1.13 billion dollars from the California Department of Health Care Services, including the elimination of dental care for low income residents on the state’s Medi-Cal program.
  • The firing of 7,000 state employees.
  • An $11.7 million cut from the Office of Emergency Services-Disaster Assistance Program, less than three months after the state suffered from the most extensive and damaging wildfires in its entire history.
  • A $175 million cut from the child services division of the Department of Social Services, which provides resources for abused, neglected, and deaf children.
  • A 10 percent reduction in retirement benefits for military veterans, along with a $20.5 million cut in the California Department of Veteran Affairs – Veteran Homes Program, which provides nursing services and residential care for veterans.

In addition, the budget includes a provision to borrow $3.3 billion dollars approved under California Proposition 57, placing the state’s poor credit rating under further strain and providing cover for future spending cuts.

Schwarzenegger is also proposing the early release of 37,000 prisoners from the state’s overcrowded penitentiary system.

This is a classic example of the “Washington Monument” ploy used by government agencies to justify revenue increases or prevent budget cuts. A threatened agency, instead of trying to become more efficient, warns that it will have to cut or shut down the most popular service under its control. The name comes from the National Park Service, which gets Congress to approve budget hikes by warning that it would have to cut hours at the Washington Monument.

We’re not the only one who thinks the Schwarzenegger budget plan is a stunt designed to gain public support for raising taxes:

To build a public groundswell for higher taxes, he crafted a budget — or, more precisely, a budget narrative — designed to make everyone howl.

So we’re told there’s an “across-the-board 10 percent cut” when in fact general fund spending is only down 2 percent. We’re told education funding is going to be ravished when in fact it is only down by less than 1 percent in a year in which school attendance will decline. And we’re told that cuts are so drastic than tens of thousands of prisoners must be released. Yet the Corrections Department budget gets a 6 percent increase!

Do you really think that a department getting 6 percent more money has no choice but to flood the streets with felons?

The script Arnold wants for 2008 could not be more clear: The Dems get a huge new tax increase. He gets a spending cap.

But the Dems know what Arnold is up to, so here’s the script we could see instead: The Dems don’t just get a huge new tax increase, they get Arnold’s support for a constitutional initiative to allow the Legislature to adopt tax increases on a simple majority vote, not the present two-thirds.

Readers may notice that this blog post cites the World Socialist Web Site for coverage of Schwarzenegger’s plan. It really is a well-written, relatively unbiased article about the budget proposal. Compare it to the slanted opening of this news article in the Los Angeles Times:

SACRAMENTO—The state’s ability to protect children, renters, workers and the elderly as well as California’s wildlife and its land would be impeded under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposals for closing a $14.5-billion deficit, state agency reports show.

The proposed budget reductions, which Schwarzenegger submitted this week to the Legislature, would erode public protection programs across state government, according to hundreds of pages of assessments that agencies submitted along with the budget this week.

More on the Washington Monument ploy here and here. Thanks also to Richard Rider for updating us on California developments.


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