Those of us in public radio and TV are quite familiar with big pitches for big cash (tote bag, anyone?) on a semi-regular basis. Perhaps that's why the 48 hour pledge-a-thon by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders that begins today feels so familiar.
The quest, based largely on the governor's call for upwards of $8 billion from the feds to solve California's budget woes, is likely to be full of high profile meetings and words of encouragement from Capitol Hill and the administration of President Barack Obama. But the trip will ultimately have to be measured on whether it moves the needle on Schwarzenegger's long running demand for more federal assistance.
Earlier this week on The California Report, we took a look at that line of argument, which dates back to the 2003 recall campaign and Schwarzenegger's self-appointed moniker "The Collectinator." Back then, the governor lamented the state only receiving 77 cents on the dollar of federal taxes paid by its citizens; six years later, he's lamenting the state only receiving 78 cents. It would seem that not much has changed.
Or has it? The governor begins his two days of meetings in Washington, D.C. with Democrats from the California delegation who believe his math is off (it's actually the math of the Tax Foundation).
"That whole premise, that somehow California is being disproportionately treated, is just false," said U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) in a phone interview Tuesday. Lofgren believes more accurate is the analysis reported last week from U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, which shows California getting more than it's sending eastward these days, thanks to the stimulus.
(Schwarzenegger's first scheduled meeting today is, in fact, with Boxer. Maybe they'll break out the calculators?)
And Lofgren didn't mince words about Schwarzenegger's recent hints that California's representatives should be doing more to get the state its so-called "fair share."
"To pretend that he's not the governor," said Lofgren, "and somehow he doesn’t have a role in the continuing saga of the California budget nightmare is really a disappointment." I interviewed Lofgren for an alternative version of my statewide story that aired this morning on NPR's Morning Edition; find more here and audio below:
The governor may also run into some in Washington who haven't forgotten how much of the federal stimulus pie is going to California -- $85 billion by the Schwarzenegger administration's calculations. Should the state be asking for more?
Yes... in fact, some say, he should be focusing on stimulus help, not on long running feuds. Jean Ross of the California Budget Project says Schwarzenegger should be going to DC "arm in arm" with the governors of other states in dire fiscal straits and ask for a second round of stimulus dollars. Schwarzenegger dismissed such a pitch when I asked him about it at his budget news conference. "We're not looking for one-time revenue," he said.
But as the next two days may show, not everyone who's tagging along may feel the same... or frankly, will even ask for the same things as the Guv will ask for when talking to the feds.
The governor is taking along all four legislative leaders for a planned show of unity (by the way, wondering who that leaves in charge back here at home?). But on Tuesday night, a spokesman for Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg emailed reporters a list of items on which the Senate leader parts ways with Schwarzenegger; it includes more months of federal dollars to help the working poor and fewer demands to cut back on benefits for Medi-Cal recipients.
And is there bipartisan unity among the state's DC delegation? Rep. Lofgren suggested that the governor may want to encourage some of that spirit when he meets with California's GOP congressional representatives who, like all others in their party did not vote for the stimulus.
Finally, while the DC trip will generate news headlines, the released schedule of meetings is mostly Californians talking to... Californians. The governor's staff says Schwarzenegger wasn't able to get on the calendar of the President, but will meet instead on health care issues with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. California has a lot of powerful voices in Washington, but it would take more than just Golden State pols to get approval of more cash for the bleeding state budget. Schwarzenegger will no doubt return home optimistic; but unlike his call for federal bucks in years past... this time, he's counting on them to balance the books.
The tote bags are waiting. Pledge today.
9:13 a.m. Counterpunches: Not surprisingly, the governor's advisers weren't so thrilled with Rep. Lofgren's comments in this piece. Calling the new analysis of federal dollars for California "skewed," gubernatorial spokesman Aaron McLear writes the following: "It is disappointing that Rep. Lofgren is satisfied with the fact that California is getting short-changed by the federal government and is subsidising other states." I'm guessing McLear won't agree with many of Lofgren's other comments about the Guv in our interview, including this quip about Schwarzenegger's plan to either get federal cash or slash programs: "It looked to me like, you know, I'm a mother of two and I remember when they were little. And if they didn't get their way, they'd hold their breath. You know, I'm going to do this unless I get my way. That's not the way to govern."