It may have been a sign. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s web site crashed in the midst of the live webcast of yesterday’s state budget signing ceremony. Perhaps it marked the late-breaking bad karma of this budget process, or of the line item vetoes yet to be unveiled.
While Schwarzenegger’s web site was soon up and running again — press secretary Aaron McLear, apologizing to Net viewers for the inconvenience, said the mishap was due to a brief “problem with our database” — there was more serious grumbling to come, and even some real pain, in the $703 million in line item vetoes Schwarzenegger promised over a month ago to seal a budget deal.
The sharpest pain may be in the governor’s elimination of $55 million to help the homeless mentally ill. Most accounts are that the program has been a good start, and Schwarzenegger himself has praised it. Beyond the humanity of the program, deranged people living on the street have become a significant problem in several California cities, notably San Francisco, where they have become a blight on the tourist experience.
The state investing in programs like this is good business. But Schwarzenegger cut it, in what may be a sign that further major budget cuts will be slashing not so much into the elusive “waste, fraud, and abuse” as into programs of need.
Our friends on the far right, ever attuned to the symbolic, are upset about Schwarzenegger not cutting $6 million for the University of California’s labor center, which they view as a hotbed of socialism. The one reader who commented on the right-wing Flash Report site yesterday railed against this, urging the political demise of the “Austrian socialist” and “illegal immigrant.” That would be California’s movie superstar-turned-centrist Republican governor.
Schwarzenegger actually did cut it once — perhaps mindful of the fact that it was used to organize against him when he ran in the 2003 recall — but probably found it more trouble than it’s worth for the relatively small amount of money involved.
One very large amount of money is the more than $300 million eliminated from MediCal spending. It’s described by administration officials as a cut that won’t impact the health care caseload of low-income people who use the program. Why not? Because the program has been overfunded.
How long has that been going on?
There are certainly significant efficiencies to be found in state government, as there are in any very large organization that has been little examined for many years. That was the point of Schwarzenegger’s California Performance Review (CPR).
Unfortunately, the CPR fell victim to internal fighting in the earlier version of the Schwarzenegger Administration. I don’t recall a group of conservative Republican senators making a big fuss over that.
Of course, the CPR certainly wasn’t perfect. For one thing, while it was doing an effective job of identifying possible efficiencies in government operations and spending — a project that takes time — its charge didn’t seem to extend to an inventory of another form of government spending. Tax expenditures are tax breaks. Sometimes they stimulate economic development, and sometimes they simply don’t.
The conservative Republican holdouts actually fought hard behind the scenes to preserve one of the most questionable big tax breaks, that for yacht owners. Which actually matches up pretty well on a dollar-for-dollar basis with the program for the mentally ill homeless. Perhaps the homeless can live on the yachts when their owners aren’t off sailing.
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