This was the last state budget he was to craft as governor, and it felt familiar; even the most severe proposal -- the complete elimination of the state's welfare-to-work program -- elicited this response from an NPR editor I was working with: "Didn't he already do that?"
Yes, but he's doing it again. Call it the 'Revise Rewind.'
The so-called 'May Revise' of Schwarzenegger's January budget was full of bad news, but not for everyone. The winners, if you can call them that: Republicans and big business (no new taxes or cancellation of 2009 tax breaks), higher education (promises made about funding were kept), state parks (they get their funding back even without the Guv's plan for offshore oil revenue) and his longtime favorite after-school programs (almost all other child care services were axed, but not the ones Schwarzenegger enticed the voters into creating eight years ago).
There was also a lot of what could either be called 'blame' or 'I told you so' in the governor's remarks:
"I have begged the Legislature to act, to do budget reform, to do tax reform," he said about the systemic budget crisis.
"Because these judges have prevented us from using a scalpel to go and trim some of those programs, we now have to use the ax," he said about lost court battles over some social services cuts which, in truth, many had suggested from the beginning were unlikely to pass legal muster.
"If we would have a rainy day fund today at 12.5% of our annual budget, when it was $100 billion, it would have been $12.5 billion," he said in a nod towards his failure to get such a large surplus system in 2008... which fails to recognize, of course, the deal he cut almost immediately after taking office in 2003 for the much smaller rainy day fund contained in Proposition 58.
Some of the alliances from those early Schwarzenegger years have fast faded away. One of the best examples -- local governments, which were all smiles in November 2004 as the Guv championed a relatively strict new constitutional amendment related to state government raids of their coffers. Now, months after they complained about him championing the use of the state's limited borrowing provisions in that measure, county and city officials are blasting Schwarzenegger's call today for eliminating things like CalWORKS, mental health programs while also pushing non-violent offenders into local jails to help cut state prison costs by about $1 billion.
"If this budget becomes a reality, the devastation upon Californians will be on par with the after-effects of a major natural disaster," said the statement from Tony Oliveira, a Kings County supervisor and president of the California State Association of Counties. Oliveira's county has an unemployment rate of 18.6%.
But it's unlikely this budget will, in fact, become reality. Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, whose growing frustration with Schwarzenegger will be one the subplots to watch this summer, quickly called it a "non-starter" in a press conference. And given how both Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez have been sounding about the 'Big 5' budget negotiation process with the governor, Schwarzenegger may have a lot of free time on his hands this summer to do other things... while legislators craft the budget without him.
That being said, the governor played the one trump card today that he still holds... and his initial gambit is a big one. "I will not sign a budget if we don't have pension reform and budget reform," he said at today's event.
The latter might actually have a chance at being realized, if everyone can eventually agree on just what they mean by 'budget reform.' Schwarzenegger's comments today seemed a rehash of previous pushes for a spending cap; referring to his chart of spending, he mentioned the need for a "a straight line based on inflation and population increase," which sounds like a cap. Democrats aren't likely to do that, but they did say today they're serious about the issue of realignment, of making spending and revenue decisions more a part of what happens in local communities than what's dictated by Sacramento.
But pension reform... that's even tougher. Especially during the middle of a budget debate that's also happening in an election year. Still, Schwarzenegger's demand for both issues... with some requests for tax reform thrown in today for good measure... is either a sign that he intends to stay relevant, that he has an eye on his legacy, or both.