Poor Ahnold. The former Mr. Universe, who used to outmuscle other bodybuilders, bench-press Hollywood producers and manhandle his female co-stars is finding his new reality show a tough sell. Playing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is much harder even than his starring role as a stealth candidate for the office.
No longer the Terminator or Conan the Barbarian, able to knock off opponents with one swipe of a well-oiled bicep, the new governor is confronted with harsh fiscal and political realities, which demand intelligence and finesse. Instead, Ahnold seems to be blundering through his crises like Inspector Clouseau.
It seems that healthcare for Californians is the unwitting victim of this ever-worsening mess in the once Golden State.
Both Democrats and Republicans in the California Legislature rejected the new governor's proposed spending cap as well as a deal to float a record $15 billion in bonds to pay off much of this year's state budget deficit. The cap, which was to be placed on the ballot as a constitutional amendment, would have given the governor sweeping new powers to simply cancel state programs and laws in the event of a deficit, effectively cutting out the legislative branch of government.
In his push for the plan, he angered many moderate Democrats by holding rallies in districts with vulnerable incumbents and giving interviews on conservative talk radio shows, fulminating over how legislators only know how to "tax, tax, tax" and "spend, spend, spend."
The governor's only real "success" to date has come in eliminating a tripling of the state's motor vehicle tax on his first day in office, which added $4 billion to the state's $38 billion deficit. The state is set to run out of cash next summer.
Unless he gets his way with the spending cap, which would limit future governors' ability to respond to crises, Schwarzenegger will borrow, without voter approval, some $10.7 billion and slash other programs-just weeks after attacking ousted Gov. Gray Davis for planning to borrow a much smaller sum. He also wants to push ballot initiatives for next year ranging from expanded gambling to restricted workers' compensation rules that he can't get through the Legislature.
For now, his Grinchlike plans for the budget are to cut the state's Healthy Families Program, which provides healthcare to 700,000 low-income children, after accusing ousted Davis during the campaign of doing too little to get people to sign up; to cap a program for the developmentally disabled, even though his mother-in-law, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics; and to slash Medi-Cal physician payments, already the lowest in the country. And all of those plans were before he knew he wouldn't have the full $15 billion in bond money.
Schwarzenegger also wants to put on hold plans to implement several new laws, including SB 2, a law requiring most businesses to provide heath benefits to workers and their families or pay into a state-run fund to cover them. Critics claim it would overburden businesses, which would have to pick up as much as 80% of its costs and drive jobs out of state.
The measure was too hastily drawn up and put into law during the recall frenzy, and now a repeal initiative seems likely to be on the March 2004 state election ballot.
Obviously, the underlying budget deficit isn't of Schwarzenegger's doing. He was elected by voters who were outraged by legislative inaction and demanded change, and change is certainly what he is seeking. But his hardball tactics and legislation by ballot box hardly seem like a good start in fulfilling his promise to fix the debacle in Sacramento.
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