The Crescendo

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Following the well-worn advice that one good turn deserves another, Governor Schwarzenegger has unveiled his own TV ad on the budget deficit debate, four days after the debut of an ad criticizing him for proposing deeper spending cuts.

"Sacramento is asking me to sign a budget that raises your taxes and spends money we do not have," says the governor in an ad that's reminiscent of the old days. Also known as 2003.

Yes, the ad (a throwback as much as the ad against him) comes across as Schwarzenegger the candidate promising to "clean house" at the state Capitol. "I'm asking you to stand firm with me," implores the governor in a 60 second ad that's full-screen Arnold with an almost eery crescendo of music at the end.

The timing of the ad seems somewhat at odds with the warm and fuzzy vibes oozing out of this weekend's eponymous Big Five meetings, a sense that all sides were finally getting close to reaching accord. Granted, even the most well financed political operation has a lag time of a few days to get a statewide TV ad on the air, but it's definitely got to make one wonder: what did some of the legislative leaders think when they first saw it?

The campaign strike -- paid for out of the governor's political account -- is a bit of a crash back to reality, where the final few billion dollars of this $26.3 billion negotiation could be as hard to find as any in recent memory.

It's also worth examining a couple of ad details. First, the governor labeling the boogey man as "Sacramento" is interesting; it seems to be a catch-all for anyone who wants budget solutions Schwarzenegger's not going to support. Unions? Democrats? Who knows... which may be the point.

The governor also makes a subtle acknowledgment that, no, he's no longer an outsider... saying that it's sometimes been a "tough task" to "control spending." Tougher than now? And does that mean he admits some responsibility for budgets that have been precariously balanced, if at all?

On the issue of taxes, the ad implies that there's still an active push for an increase of some sort -- even though it seems Democrats raised the white flag on that one days ago. And then Schwarzenegger says this: "I will not sign a budget that pushes our financial problems down the road." Does that mean no borrowing, no gimmicks? Or does that mean no more than necessary (which Schwarzenegger himself has admitted in recent weeks).

Given that the ad feels like a rebuttal to last week's attack from the California Teachers Association, it's worth mentioning that a political strategist for the CTA said today that a recent poll they commissioned shows more people want a budget deficit solution that balances the pain -- including the repeal of corporate tax credits -- while fewer want one that suspends the voter-approved Proposition 98 school funding guarantee.

The real crunch time for a deficit deal appears to have arrived. And while the weekend negotiations were supposedly fruitful, a list of agenda items released by the governor's office makes it clear that most of the biggies weren't hotly debated. And that would suggest they're still in limbo: the aforementioned reduction in public school funding (to the tune of about $3 billion), the exact mix of program changes the governor says will reform social services, and the controversial plan to borrow and/or transfer money from local governments to help balance the state's books.

Just as in the ad, the crescendo seems to be coming...

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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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