Arnold's Message: Yes, We Can

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Arnold Schwarzenegger the optimist was back on display this morning in his brief, and serious, speech to a joint session of the Legislature.

But the governor, who's fond of saying that "he alone cannot lift" the fiscal weights of California, now must find a way to get Democrats and Republicans lifting the same weight. At the same time.

The speech's signature sound bites were obvious.

"Our wallet is empty. Our bank is closed. Our credit is dried up."

"I will not cut a dollar from education, a dollar from health care, a dollar from public safety, or a dollar from state parks without first cutting the [Integrated] Waste Management Board."

"People are writing California off... Let’s prove all the pundits wrong."

The speech was delivered to a solemn audience of legislators, who only broke into appplause once (and even then, only scattered, when the 'cut the waste board' line was delivered).

Schwarzenegger brought along charts detailing the depth of the problem (note #1: totally unreadable from the floor where lawmakers sat), and quoted another famous optimist, Winston Churchill, about the opportunity in crisis. (note #2: Churchill also said, "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results." Just a thought.)

Two areas of reform that Schwarzenegger hasn't talked about as much in recent times reemerged in this speech: prison privatization and school outsourcing... both of which are instantly popular with his fellow Republicans. His comments can be heard below.

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Schwarzenegger made it clear that some action should happen between now and June 15 -- a date picked by Controller John Chiang for cash savings to ease the state's borrowing needs. But he also hinted that the 'whole enchilada' deadline was more likely July 17, the date the Legislature is scheduled to begin a monthlong summer recess.

The transcript of the speech is here.

As for legislative reaction? Democrats were quick to point out that there was more agreement than disagreement, though both Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg made it clear some of the governor's cuts are non-starters.

"We need to be surgical in the way we go about cutting," Steinberg told reporters. And both leaders promised "significant" deficit-reducing action would be brought for a vote in the next two weeks.

But if Dems are pushing back on the most extreme social services cuts, Republicans are equally defiant on new revenues... and even skeptical about Schwarzenegger's 'revenue accelerations,' where taxpayers would have to pay more of their annual burden earlier in 2009, thus allowing the cash to count in the pending fiscal year.

Assembly GOP Leader Sam Blakeslee told reporters that the state's economy would be in "cardiac arrest" if taxes were raised. Senate GOP Leader Dennis Hollingsworth latched on the push for government reforms; "You can soften the blow of these devastating cuts if you have reforms that go along with them," he said.

And so the question for now will be... on which cuts and which reforms is there consensus? And once the agreed upon cuts are added up, how much gap is remaining? If the specific answers to those questions aren't visible soon, the worst-case scenarios for the summer of 2009 at the state Capitol will creep one step closer to reality.

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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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