Vol. 11, No. 2,586W - The American Reporter - February 20, 2005

Jill Stewart

by Jill Stewart
American Reporter Correspondent
Sacramento, Calif.

SACRAMENTO -- When both sides in Sacramento are grumbling after a key vote, you know for certain that the rare bird known as compromise has flown and perched on the Capitol dome. That's heartening to see after a year of partisan gridlock that got California exactly nowhere.

The 120 legislators got a 17 percent approval rating from voters at their lowest point this year. But they have not been much motivated to change because they are elected from so-called "safe" districts drawn up by their own parties to ensure that they are almost certainly re-elected.

Two remarkable things happened last week. First, Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson of Los Angeles, building on an opening created by a tiny but persistent band of pragmatic legislators known as the Bipartisan Group, took the lead to broker a deal with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, thus ending Wesson's long period of irrelevancy. Second, hardly anyone said anything horrible to anyone else.

Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of turbulence just below the surface. On Dec. 5, the Democrats refused to let voters have a say on Schwarzenegger's proposed spending cap constitutional amendment. Schwarzenegger wanted to set a spending cap of roughly $72 billion a year---close to what the state makes in revenues. That cap would mean state government would have to start living on what it takes in by immediately cutting imbedded overspending.

But allow voters to decide? Let voters mull over Schwarzenegger's idea that the legislature can increase spending beyond the $72 billion only at the same rate as California's population and per capita income increase?

If voters were allowed to approve a true spending cap, it would mean the first structural belt-tightening in years. We had a true cap once, called the "Gann limit," but slick politicians talked voters into wiping out most Gann limit safeguards by approving exceptions.

Where does the money go? We're not suppose to discuss that in polite company - even the governor is horribly torn about this - but California is one of the biggest welfare states around. In the 1960s, we spent 20 percent of the state budget on infrastructure like road building and public works. Today, virtually every penny of that has been shifted to welfare and assistance, for free health care, free counseling, and so on. Less than 1 percent of your taxes goes to infrastructure anymore.

Led by the philosophy of Sen. President Pro Tem John Burton, the California legislature does not believe in helping the disadvantaged catch their own fish--for example by spending the huge state surplus of a few years ago on public works projects that put people to work in high-paying jobs. Instead, as the saying goes, California just hands out fish.

When a new assistance program is created, the public has no clue what "entitlement" means. It usually means that no matter how many people sign up, the program cannot be cut back. There is no cost-containment. It is "caseload-driven." If California is broke, the "caseload-driven" programs keep their maws open wide.

My personal favorite, approved this past session and signed by Davis, allows Californians who have run out of cash to qualify for food stamps without having to sell their luxury cars.

Before this, we taxpayers were only asked to buy food for others if those down on their luck traded down to cheaper cars and used the resulting proceeds to pay for food. Only after that money was gone could people come to the taxpayers for food stamps.

But now, if you lose your job, keep your Jaguar. As long as you have insufficient income for food, Californians will buy the food for you. And get this - your household can own as many Jaguars as it likes.

The public has no idea this goes on. None.

When a public opinion poll asks Californians if they support health care for children, everybody says "Of course!" Nobody tells the public that under the bizarre "working poor" definition created in Sacramento to bloat such programs as fat as possible, families making more than $40,000 a year qualify for this freebie insurance, which is paid for by the rest of us.

The Schwarzenegger-Wesson plan likely to go on the March ballot is better than the lack of controls right now, but will not by itself stop such uncontrolled spending.

I wish I could say that my own Democratic Party protects the "caseload" approach to funding because this tackles poverty in a meaningful way. But poverty has remained largely unchanged for decades despite massive growth in such programs.

It was the Republican Congress that forced welfare reform upon the politicians in Washington and put millions of poor mothers to work. It was former Democratic President Bill Clinton, a centrist who rejected his party's failed liberal policies, who signed the Republican reforms now lauded even by many of the poor.

California's too-far-left legislature never got the message. Last year, when Davis detailed his $10 billion in cuts on Jan. 10, Republican legislators quickly backed Davis' crash diet. But the Democratic majority instead came up with some 100 bills to dump $28 billion in new taxes on us.

As January, February, and March slipped by, the legislature failed to cut even a penny, while $20 million per day in unrealized cuts that could not be recaptured blew out the door.

On Dec. 5, both Burton and Wesson were bitching that the governor should have met with them more often, instead of going to malls in San Diego, Bakersfield, Tracy and the Inland Empire to ask roaring crowds to back his California Fiscal Recovery Plan.

Schwarzenegger's occasional forays out of town were hardly the problem. Burton refused for several days to let the Republicans, led by Sen. Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga, even make a closed-door presentation to Burton of Schwarzenegger's plan. I later heard Burton barking at a Democratic senator in a hall on Dec. 5, not realizing a journalist was present: "We aren't going to approve that fu--ing plan so what fu--ing difference does it matter where it goes on any fu--ing agenda?"

The truth is, Wesson stepped up to the plate and finally negotiated with the governor because Schwarzenegger demonstrated - at malls filled with screaming supporters - that he was serious about talking directly to the people.

Remember them? They are the average citizens, the ones with whom the power elite in Sacramento has utterly lost touch.

Copyright 2005 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.