State Finance Director Michael C. Genest has put together a slide show that takes on budget myths, including the oft-heard complaint that state spending is out of control. Nonsense, Genest argued, spending "has been brought under control in the past couple of years." A chart shows general fund spending at $101.4 billion in fiscal year 2006-07, $103.3 billion in 2007-08 and $103.4 billion in 2008-09. If the new proposed cuts are enacted, spending for the 2008-09 budget will fall to $98.9 billion.
The chart doesn't show the $71 billion general fund that Schwarzenegger inherited five years ago, before state spending per resident grew 33 percent.
When he took office, Schwarzenegger promised that he would not just shuffle departments, but that he would "blow up boxes" to reform state government. He created a California Performance Review, which issued recommendations that were supposed to save $32 billion over five years. Then Schwarzenegger failed to follow through. Maybe the projected savings never would have materialized, but Schwarzenegger couldn't even dump the advisory boards that he had boasted he would eliminate.
As Joel Fox, a GOP strategist and editor of Foxandhoundsdaily.com, told me, Schwarzenegger should have cut spending early on; he "should have spent (his political) capital up front, and he'd be better off for it."
Today, many Republicans are making the same argument as they oppose any tax increases. Fox remembers how the same right wing "sat on their hands" when Schwarzenegger's budget reform measure was on the ballot in 2005.
"Then he's defeated," Fox added, "and he moves in a different direction, and they all beat him up."
Democratic lawmakers seem willing to go along with Schwarzenegger's spending cuts. Their dirty little secret is: They don't want to raise taxes, either.
They've been able to expand government precisely because Republicans have assured the public that taxpayers will never have to pay for new programs.
Schwarzenegger has learned that when he does his job best, his poll ratings fall. He set out to blow up the boxes, but in the end, the boxes blew up on him.
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