"Punish Sacramento"

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Governor Schwarzenegger kicked off his latest road show this morning in Fresno, talking budget reform and striking a curious balance between defending elected officials and criticizing them.

The governor's event with Fresno Mayor Alan Autry and others had a familiar theme. Armed with his now infamous budget charts showing the imbalance between state expenditures and revenue, Schwarzenegger promised a new push this year for a constitutional amendment to change the budget system.

That proposal was hinted at in his State of the State speech two months ago but remains more concept than concrete. What we do know is that it would create a new rainy day fund by constraining spending in robust times and would give the governor the option of unilaterally cutting some state spending if the Legislature fails to do so as needed.

This morning's event, broadcast on the governor's website, featured Schwarzenegger walking a careful line when assessing blame for the budget problem. While at one point saying that elected officials are not the problem ("No one has forseen this [budget] situation," he told the audience), the governor then dusted off some language that sounded like it came from his failed 2005 campaign to pass the budget proposal known as Proposition 76.

Schwarzenegger said that rather than punishing Californians, perhaps someone should "punish Sacramento" for the problems.

"Why take people, vulnerable citizens," said the governor describing the recent spate of feast or famine budget years, "on this kind of roller coaster ride?"

The governor then went on to blame the amorphous "Sacramento" for -- in his words -- stealing money over the years from the people.

He criticized last week's Assembly vote on a new tax on oil production as the wrong approach. "The oil companies didn't create this [budget] problem," he said, later arguing that the proposal was merely "taking money away from the [oil company] shareholders."

And in a preview of things to come this spring and summer, Schwarzenegger seemed to make it clear that he wants to negotiate a reform proposal in tandem with the coming year's budget. That could be particularly tough, given how little consensus there is so far on how to solve anything related to the state's recurring gap between revenues and expenditures.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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