Thomas Elias: Arnold has vision, not realism |

Thomas Elias: Arnold has vision, not realism

No one can doubt the sweeping quality of the vision displayed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger since his re-election last fall. Not only does he want health insurance for every Californian, he wants the state to lead the way in solving global warming and he wants California to push oil companies into developing lower-carbon automotive fuels. Plus, he wants to transform American politics into a centrist exercise, something that has never occurred in the 218 years since the Constitution was adopted.

The list doesn’t even include $87 billion or so in new bonds Schwarzenegger would like to see approved before he leaves office in 2011, aiming to build new prisons and otherwise expand on myriad projects to be funded by the $38 billion in existing construction and repair bonds approved by voters last fall.

Similarly, no one can doubt Schwarzenegger’s oratory and syntax are much improved this year. Perhaps, as some have speculated, pain from his December skiing injury concentrated his mind. Perhaps it reminded him of his mortality, thus eliminating some of the arrogance from his prior tone.

But there’s one problem in all this: Schwarzenegger’s plans often demonstrate a lack of clear thinking, a kind of Alice in Wonderland approach where everything will work out all right just because he says so.

Take those new bonds the governor wants. Please.

Just a couple of weeks after he proposed them, California’s non-partisan legislative analyst concluded they would push the state beyond its tolerable debt service limits.

The same problem was true of the $38 billion in spending Schwarzenegger pushed so hard last fall, when he essentially promised they would solve every one of the state’s physical ills. With interest, those bonds will cost more than $70 billion to repay. That kind of money will only be available if the state keeps growing – and Schwarzenegger himself often points out that more people lately have moved from California to other states than have come here from other parts of America.

Yes, a healthy portion of those departing are retirees cashing out their valuable California real estate and buying much more house for much less money elsewhere. Nevertheless, the only real growth California has seen in the last few years comes from immigrants and their offspring. They will eventually produce innovations and inventions, just like other immigrant groups, but the financial return on their influx will take awhile to come.

This means it’s uncertain the last batch of bonds can be paid back without cutting other services, like parks, roads and education. And if that’s true, think what might happen if another $87 billion were approved. Debt service – paying the interest on those bonds – could decimate every other government function. And that’s even without a multifaceted disaster like the next major earthquake will surely create.

Then there’s health care. The governor says he wants everyone to have health insurance and quit overusing emergency rooms. He wants doctors and hospitals who now treat uninsured indigents to get paid for what they do, but he wants the state to grab a large part of what they’re paid as a “health care fee” – which sounds a lot like a new income tax on those at the front lines of health care.

What’s more, he doesn’t even acknowledge that charging poor people huge deductibles, plus insurance premiums, will leave the working poor at least as bad off as before.

Yes, Schwarzenegger says he’s willing to listen to other people’s ideas, but his record indicates he usually pursues his own notions, no matter what others might suggest. Only when forced into something – as he was with global warming – does he embrace other people’s ideas. The governor got behind last year’s landmark anti- greenhouse gas law only after he saw that it would easily pass the Legislature and aides apprised him of the damage to his “green” image were he to veto the bill. In a clear case of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” Schwarzenegger got off the fence where he had lurked while the bill was debated in the Legislature and now acts as if the whole thing was his idea.

Then there’s the Schwarzenegger budget, touted as “balanced.” It will only come close to being balanced if record-level capital gains taxes keep rolling in to state coffers, and the dot-com bust of the late 1990s proved no one can bank on that. It’s not happening so far this year, and the legislative analyst says spending cuts may be needed.

And then there’s the idea of California creating new fuel-refining standards that are greener than anyone else’s. A grand idea, but very possibly illegal under the commerce clause of the Constitution, which gives power over interstate trade to Congress, not the states.

In short, it’s highly likely that only a very small part of what Schwarzenegger so happily hyped all winter will become reality. It’s also possible that nothing he’s pushing will end up happening.


Thomas D. Elias is a syndicated columnist who writes about California issues. Contact him via e-mail at

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User