You can -- and should -- fault Schwarzenegger for backing away from proposed cuts after Democrats hammered him. Still, the awful truth is that a governor doesn't have much authority on spending. Once Sacramento decides to spend money, on pensions or salaries, the governor can't unilaterally reduce pensions or salaries. He can't even sponsor a bill to reduce pension benefits, because the law -- for good reason -- does not allow employers to take back a promised retirement perk. He can only propose reduced benefits for future workers -- if the Democratic Legislature plays along, instead of hammering him, as the Dems did last year.
When voters pass measures that dedicate funds for various expenditures -- such as after-school programs, as advocated in the Schwarzenegger-sponsored 2002 measure, Proposition 49 -- a governor has even less leverage.
Last year, Schwarzenegger tried to address Sacramento's spending addiction by pushing Proposition 76, which would have limited the growth in state spending, but it failed. This year, apparently, he just wants to win re-election.
There is one glimmer of hope for post-recall politics -- but you won't see it flickering near the Angelides or Westly camps. Both Dems support Proposition 82, the soak-the-rich for universal preschool measure on the June ballot. Schwarzenegger rightly has come out against the measure. Ditto leading Democrats Don Perata, the Senate president pro tem, and John Burton, who held the job before Perata.
Westly says he opposes new taxes -- except this one. Angelides has no problem with taxes for the rich -- even if the program is wrong-headed.
Perata originally supported the measure, but then he realized that it would siphon money and credentialed teachers from K-12. He also understands that when voters mandate spending on pet projects, they create "one of the principle reasons why state government can't function effectively."
Too bad Burton and Perata are not running in this Democratic primary.
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