The State of The State is Stasis With A Smile

One has to give our fair Governor Doofinator credit for being able to create a “moment” when on stage. Listening to him today, in the absence of any criticism or any sort of questioning (as is the case usually) one cannot discount his brand of optimism coupled with snappy sounding ideas that make everyone feel good “in the moment.”
The problem is that like a moment on the stage or on the screen, once it’s over, reality begins to rear its ugly head. This was the case for Gov. Schwarzenegger tonight when he laid out what had been touted as an “action plan for reform” for California.
After assorted witticisms, he laid out four major areas he wants to take on, starting with what was termed “budget reform.” As is often the case, he got half the problem right, and half the problem wrong, and the proposed “solution” is one that serves no one, except perhaps the well-heeled “special interests” that wrote it for him.
What’s right: No one would argue that the current budget “process,” with years of voter mandated spending, and earmarked taxation for specific projects, is working. While Gov. Doofinator correctly identified this problem, he then went on to say that we have merely a “spending” problem.
You have to get worried when people start using the generic term “spending” when trying to address complicated budget issues. That’s because the usual response of these folks is to create new laws that restrict the ability of elected officials to make decisions, forcing government to operate on a strict percentage per year of spending growth.
Which is fine, except that life doesn’t operate on percentages per year of increase. What happens when you have a major disaster strike, or an opportunity to invest in something of great benefit, when you can’t even vote for it because some clever guy at a think tank says you can’t spend more than 1% more than last year?
You also have to get worried when, as he describes this “plan,” he derides “special interests.” Remember, under Gov. Doofinator, if you’re not someone who gives money to his campaigns, you’re a “special interest” and you get derided. If, however, you pay to play politics with the Governor’s crew, you can write legislation that fits your needs, and you avoid that label. Heck, you can even get rewarded for your efforts. Just ask the people who will be building that section of the Bay Bridge.
Our fair governor also made some sweeping promises to “reform” public education, and promised new mandates for local schools. Which is fine, but he chose to completely ignore how to actually pay for any of the latest in “from Sacramento” reforms to our system.
It is ironic that we have recently had a new report detail the many inadequacies of the system of funding (and not just the amount of funding) for public schools, and yet at a time when you’d think that a popular Governor such as ours could “blow up the box” on the inequitable distribution of funding (are you taking notes, Mr. Hertzberg?) he chooses instead to impose more mandates from Sacramento without the money to pay for them.
This is an old trick, it makes him sound great, and school districts still don’t have the money to pay for it because they’re not allowed to ask the people they serve to pay for it.
But hey, give the man credit. He promised teachers that he’d reward them for their hard work, just as he also said he’d take away their pensions (and already took away their tax break for buying school supplies for the kiddies). Now that’s salesmanship!
Most interesting to me, though was the proposal to change the way the legislative districts are drawn. Now, on paper, I agree completely with the Governor that the current system lends itslef to gerrymandered results and have written about this in the past. But like with so many big ideas, it’s not the idea we end up debating, it’s the implementation, and that is where the danger lies.
See, the concept of a non-partisan panel of judges drawing up legislative districts that are oriented towards keeping communities together and complying with the Voting Rights act is a great one, and I am the first one to suggest that perhaps it’s time to consider it. The devil(s) in the details though are where one has to think twice, three times, and even four, before going forth with some new scheme.
I have yet to see any proposal that first passes constitutional muster, although I can’t believe one could not be created that would. More troubling though is seeing who supports the concept on the intiative side (the same crazies who paid for the recall in 2003), and wondering just who gets to pick those “non partisan” judges in the first place.
Given that the entire California Performance Review was written by wealthy special interests who want to see government reorganized to benefit their bottom line, I would take a seriously skeptical look at any proposal in the wings for “electoral reform” that comes from this administration.
More to the point, after electoral “reform” shenanigans in Colorado and Texas, which sought to change districts in mid-decade to benefit Republicans alone in Congress, I’m not willing to endorse anything just yet until it passes a strong BS-detector test applied by yours truly.
There was one small moment of brightness in all the shadowy rhetoric, which was a proposal for a drug buyer’s club card issued by the state. If it does what he says it does, it’s an easy solution to the cost of drugs, and it doesn’t require buying them from Canada (which is never a solution in the long run!)
It does not take a genius to figure out why drugs are cheaper in Canada – there’s only one buyer of drugs (Canada’s government) and they are buying in bulk. A lot of bulk. If you go to a drug company and can guarantee you’re willing to buy 25 million tablets of Prozac, you can better believe that drug company will happily cut you a deal.
Drug buying clubs are nothing new – years ago I had an opportunity to work with retired Rep. Joe Kennedy and Citizen Health when they rolled out a similar plan in New England that was a success. If the Governor’s proposal really does help the millions of people who work, don’t qualify for aid, but still need drugs, and actually helps lower their prices to the “levels of Canadian prices” promised in the speech, well that is just groovy with me.
Now, of course, if this is tied to some “forced purchase” of health insurance that’s being bandied about by the Governor and some lawmakers, well that’s not groovy at all.
Overall there were no big surprises, but again, missed opportunities. You’d think that someone with as much image and popularity as Governor Schwarzenegger would take the opportunity to completely reshape the state out of its legal entanglements, maybe with a state Constitutional Convention that was multipartisan, or was willing to take on some of the well-funded folks who pay for his 24/7 campaign operation as well as the usual people he picks on, would do so.
He didn’t, and that’s why he’s got the label “Doofinator” around here. And it’s not something I’m happy about. I’d much rather have a Governor who lives up to his promises, instead of just putting on a great show that makes us feel great, but has no substance in the end.
PS: Don’t think for a moment that California Democrats are going to have it easy, no matter how often the Governor does something goofy. Later this week I’ll be posting a piece that will attempt to warn so-called progressives that we face a dire situation in 2006 if we’re not careful. Stay tuned, loyal readers!
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