Like it or not, the Governator will not "be back." We've had a long run with him, seven years.
The economy is now, undeniably, in the tank. Questions continue to linger as to whether California is governable. Answers are many, but real solutions too often seem few and far between.
So behind all the rhetorical noise, it is worth asking, how did the Governator do and what does his tenure mean for the future of California?
To answer those questions, let's take a look at a few key issues:
BUDGET AND TAXES
The Budget Process: Perhaps more important than anything else, Schwarzenegger failed to fix the budget. This is Schwarzenegger's greatest short coming, and was the primary purpose of his 2003 campaign. However, it is important to ask how much any governor could have accomplished.
Schwarzenegger has managed to get one of his favored reforms on the 2012 ballot; a measure would mandate a larger rainy day fund. Further, in November of 2010 Californians did pass a measure to reduce the number of votes needed to pass the budget from two-thirds to a simple majority. Yet, at the same time Californians also passed a measure which requires that all fee increases be passed by two-thirds of both houses. This is the same requirement necessary to raise taxes. Unless one party magically garners two thirds of both legislative houses, these supermajority requirements will result gridlock.
Gimmicks aside, there are only so many options when it comes to balancing a budget. One can raise revenue, cut spending, or borrow. Because it will be arduous, though not impossible, to raise revenue (taxes or fees), the later two options are likely to continue in at least the short term.
Bonds/Indebtedness: When Schwarzenegger took office California had $34 billion in bond debt. That sounds like a sizable number until you hear that we now have $91 billion in such debt. This is in some part due to two bond sales that Schwarzenegger supported. First, at Schwarzenegger's behest, California sold $15 billion in bonds to balance the 2005 budget. Second, again with Schwarzenegger's urging, we sold $37 billion in infrastructure bonds.
And he wants more. Schwarzenegger is supporting an $11 billion bond for water conservation that will be on the 2012 ballot.
Bonds debt is sometimes quite necessary, and certainly not inherently evil. However, it will need to be repaid at some point. It is not free money.
The Tax System: Schwarzenegger called a bipartisan tax commission that was charged with finding ways to make our sometimes volatile tax system less dependent on the highest earners and capital gains taxes. However, the recommendations were dead on arrival.
The Car Tax: One of the first things Schwarzenegger did when he rode into office was cut the infamous vehicle license fee. This was one of Schwarzenegger's first campaign promises, and he fulfilled it. The problem is that it is has cost California big time, to the tune of about $6 billion per year. Goodbye car tax, hello structural deficit.
Schwarzenegger has been plagued by charges of unethical behavior. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics named him as one of America's worst governors in 2010.
There have been questions about his use of non-profit and campaign funds for travel and special elections. He has also given termed out legislators and other friends "soft landing" jobs on state boards.
Redistricting Reform: He supported common sense redistricting reform. (Click here for more on redistricting). Legislators will no longer draw their own, gerrymandered districts in order to stay in power. Now an independent redistricting commission will draw the state and congressional district lines.
Open Primaries: Schwarzenegger endorsed open primaries. There are undoubtedly pros and cons to the new California law which provides that any voter can vote for any candidate in the primary election, and that the top two voter-getters, regardless of party affiliation proceed to the general election. Whether or not this is an achievement largely depends on your perspective.
One potential drawback is that races could be more expensive because candidates have to appeal to the entire electorate in both the primary and the general election. In addition, the new law will all but eviscerate third party candidates, who are unlikely to be among the top two voter getters, and hence will not appear on the general election ballot.
The stated purpose of the law is to elect more moderates, who are likely to be consensus builders who will break up partisan grid lock. Time will tell whether this reform proposal takes flight.
Schwarzenegger paved the way to make California a leader in green energy. He signed AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act. Voters refused to delay implementation of this measure as recently as November 2010.
As always, history will be the final judge of Governor Schwarzenegger. In the meantime, hasta la vista and Ciao for now, Governator.
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