Editorial: California VoteA Time for Total Recall
On Wednesday, California voters annihilated Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's and state lawmakers plans to raise taxes by some $16 billion in order to pay for a $23 billion budget shortfall. In doing so, Californians sent an unmistakable message: Don't raise taxes to finance your waste; cut excessive spending to balance the budget. And don't borrow more money.
And that may well turn out to be the “Shock Heard ‘Round the World”—and, at the very least, throughout the country.
Significantly, the only thing voters did approve was to cap legislative pay raises during deficit years with a whopping 73.9 percent of the vote, which only adds to the allure and lure of the vote.
In other words: They ain't paying. Here follows the results of the referenda:
• Proposition 1A: To raise taxes $16 billion to finance the deficit.
o Yes: 1,334,724 34.1% No: 2,569,677 65.9%
• Proposition 1B: To raise education spending should 1A pass.
o Yes: 1,460,630 37.4% No: 2,435,276 62.6%
• Proposition 1C: To borrow $5 billion from future lottery profits.
o Yes: 1,376,145 35.4% No: 2,507,236 64.6%
• Proposition 1D: To take $600 million from Prop. 10 tobacco money funds and put it in the general fund.
o Yes: 1,331,624 34.3% No: 2,550,562 65.7%
• Proposition 1E: To take $450 million from Prop. 63 mental health funds and put it in the general fund.
o Yes: 1,229,638 33.6% No: 2,562,412 66.4%
But the drama is not yet over. The Governor, apparently as obtuse as he is uneducable, was in Washington on Wednesday, begging for assistance from the federal government to guarantee some $6 billion in bonds. In other words, now he wants American taxpayers—already $11 trillion in debt nationally—to finance the debt of a state that has ballooned its budget from $76.3 billion in 2003-04 to $92.2 billion for 2009-10. It even rose to $102.98 billion in 2007-08.
All of which is a far cry from the Governator's recall campaign of 2003—making him, perhaps, the greatest political disappointment of the decade. Schwarzenegger, who promised to restore sanity to the fiscal house in Sacramento, was dealt early defeats in referenda campaigns by the state's public employee unions. So, instead of sticking to his beliefs and fighting back like the Last Action Hero, he reverted to his role as the Running Man, putting politics far above principle.
Now, he is handed a golden opportunity to return to his roots by forcing the state legislature to finally shrink government, once and for all. But instead he decides to make up the budget shortfall by borrowing more money, breaking the most important promise he made to Californians when he originally ran.
The facts are relatively simple: California is currently 17.35 percent over budget. The only government more irresponsible is the nation's capital, which spending $1.8 trillion more in revenue than it estimates will come in to pay for a $3.6 trillion budget—an astounding 50 percent over budget.
One would think that Schwarzenegger would not wish a legacy upon himself to be the Governor that emulates the failed federal model for his own state. Fortunately, it is not too late for him to reverse California's poisonous path, despite how far he has wandered from the principled stand he took in 2003.
It is time for Schwarzenegger to plot a new course for California, and to stand up for the some 2.56 million people who rejected tax increases. It is time to make the painful cuts. Remarkably, trimming the $16 billion deficit off of the current budget would return California back to where it started in 2003 when Schwarzenegger became Governor: to a budget of about $76 billion.
The least Schwarzenegger can do is not leave the state worse off than when he started. Borrowing more money to finance a budget deficit that would not have grown had he stuck to his original promises would be the final insult. So, this is his final chance. He is term-limited in 2010, and will not be able to fix the mess the state is in after then.
But, he can leave a legacy of a man who, prodded by those he had long since abandoned, in the end returned to his first love: representative government that puts the wants and needs of those it serves above political gain and personal expediency.
The people of California have spoken. They have sent a message that is resonating across the fruited plane, from sea to shining sea.
Now, let's see if it their message reaches the ears—and touches the heart—of the man who once spoke their piece.
In short, Mr. Schwarzenegger, it's high time for a strong dose of Total Recall.