The Audacity of... Federal Help

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Sacramento Loves Obama. For now, at least.

Two bits of news trickling in from the nation's capital are creating a stir inside the fiscally drained statehouse as the week begins. First, today's headline that President Barack Obama is asking the federal EPA to take another look at California's request for strict new tailpipe exhaust standards. That long battle that resulted in the Bush administration saying 'thanks, but no thanks' last year in its rejection of California's request.

"We never gave up," said Governor Schwarzenegger at a news conference this afternoon reacting to the Obama announcement. "Now California finally has a partner and an ally in Washington."

That comment makes it impossible to ignore the irony: Schwarzenegger campaigned for George W. Bush in 2004. Had a Democrat been in the White House, many would argue the EPA would have never rejected the waiver. Schwarzenegger also campaigned for Sen. John McCain against Obama, though McCain's position on global warming issues wasn't as in conflict with California's guv as was that of the former president.

Meantime, state lawmakers are starting to see estimates of how big the federal helping hand will be in terms of a fiscal bailout... er... economic stimulus. A report from the National Conference of State Legislatures suggests California could receive as much as $21.5 billion of the $198 billion package.

Of course, that number comes with some caveats; not only does it not match up to our budget process (federal fiscal years begin in October, ours begins in July)... but it also wouldn't all go towards solving the $40 billion hole in California's general fund. That number may be closer to about $11 billion.

In his Q&A with reporters today, Schwarzenegger didn't dismiss the importance of the money. "We will take that money," he said. But at the same time, he made it clear he's not ready to necessarily shrink the gap that needs to be resolved through private negotiations with legislative leaders (which continue today). And on those talks, he would only say this: "We're getting closer and closer."

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About John Myers

John Myers is Sacramento Bureau Chief for KQED Public Radio and "The California Report," heard daily on 23 public radio stations across the Golden State.

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