Governor urges Californians to call out lawmakers
Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO ” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a unique appeal to Californians on Wednesday, saying they must do their part to prod lawmakers into passing a budget because the state is not run by a dictator.
Schwarzenegger said he needs the public’s help in coaxing lawmakers out of their ideological corners and ending a record-long stalemate that shows no sign of ending. He joked by making a reference to his native Austria, which he said was surrounded by totalitarian governments when he came to America in the late 1960s.
“I left because of that,” Schwarzenegger said to a crowd of health care providers, school administrators and public safety officials outside a medical center in Placerville, a Gold Rush-era town in the Sierra foothills.
The state has been unable to pay make billions of dollars in payments to schools, hospitals and other programs without a budget, which is more than two months overdue.
Schwarzenegger said he has offered a compromise plan to dig the state out of its $15.2 billion deficit. His proposal combines more than $11 billion in spending cuts over two years with a temporary, 1 cent increase in the state sales tax that would be rolled back after three years.
He urged California voters to start pressuring their lawmakers and use the November election as a referendum on their disappointing performance.
“You can have the power,” the governor said. “I alone can’t do the lifting.”
One of this year’s budget negotiators, Assembly Minority Leader Mike Villines, said Schwarzenegger’s proposal to help plug the gap with a sales tax increase might lead to even more financial distress, especially if the economy deteriorates further and retail sales decline.
“All the calls I get are, ‘Do not raise taxes,”‘ said Villines, R-Clovis.
Schwarzenegger’s departure from his “no tax” pledge also has received harsh criticism from his longtime political confidant, former Gov. Pete Wilson.
While attending the Republican National Convention in Minnesota this week, Wilson dismissed comparisons between Schwarzenegger’s plight this year and the budget he signed in 1991. That spending plan contained a similar mix of cuts and tax increases, but it dealt with a comparatively greater shortfall.
Wilson said the recession at that time led to a deficit equaling one-third of the state’s general fund budget. He also said he and the Legislature did not engage in deficit spending, which has been the common practice since then.
When neither Democrats nor Republicans were willing to go for “difficult spending cuts,” Wilson said he was forced to propose $7 billion in tax hikes.
Schwarzenegger was scheduled to speak during the convention but has repeatedly said he would not attend while the budget deadlock drags on. He argued his plan is different from previous budget deals because it includes steps for long-term fiscal reforms that would prevent the state from having massive spending gaps in the future.
Schwarzenegger’s proposal includes giving the governor authority to make midyear spending cuts when revenues fall and would boost the state’s rainy day fund.
He noted that Democrats’ plan to raise $8.2 billion by boosting taxes on corporations and wealthy Californians was voted down in the Legislature. And he expected a Republican plan to fail if it comes up for a vote later this week because it relies on borrowing.
He likened the GOP plan to the personal budget of a family that already has overextended itself but decides to take out another credit card. The Republicans’ plan would leave it to a future governor and Legislature to solve the state’s ongoing imbalance between spending and revenue, Schwarzenegger said.
“They call themselves fiscally conservative and fiscally responsible. I don’t agree with that,” the governor said. “It kicks the can down the alley.”
State Sen. Dick Ackerman, R-Tustin said Schwarzenegger’s characterization is wrong.
“Myself and a number of Republicans have presented a number of options, basically cuts, because we spend too much money in California,” Ackerman said from St. Paul, Minn., where he is attending the Republican National Convention. “California is the most highly taxed state around. We have to look at making cuts.”
Asked whether it was time to strike a compromise, the former Senate minority leader was blunt.
“No,” he said. “We compromise every year. … When it comes to taxes, that’s not something we can compromise on.”
Associated Press Writer Juliet Williams in St. Paul, Minn., contributed to this report.
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