Weren’t seven years of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dysfunctional tenure in California enough?
Schwarzenegger rode into the governor’s office riding the wind not just of his Hollywood fame, but on the bluster that he was an outsider, not just another career politician, that his vast personal wealth made him impervious to "special interests" such as unions (exempting big corporations which always have his help), and that he would fix state government by blowing it up.
If that sounds a lot like billionaire Meg Whitman’s current campaign, it should.
Not only is Whitman channeling Schwarzenegger’s run to Sacramento, including reliance on disgraced former Gov. Pete Wilson as a top adviser.
She has also seized on the Terminator’s biggest in-office mistake – his decision in 2005 to run against California public service and safety members, including nurses, teachers, and firefighters, a colossal blunder that ended infamously in four Schwarzenegger initiatives being buried in the November 2005 special election.
Fast forward to today. In a campaign spectacularly devoid of other ideas or proposals, Whitman has emphasized one in particular. She promises to slash 40,000 public employee jobs and is demanding the University of California roll back staffing levels five years.
Apparently eliminating jobs for 40,000 or more people, threatening to impoverish thousands of families, is a unique way to fulfill her other campaign promise to create more jobs in still recession plagued California. (Maybe she is also channeling another former California governor, Ronald Reagan, who once famously said that trees cause pollution.)
But a report publicized today by veteran California journalist Robert Salladay on California Watch, a blog about state government, blows a lot of holes in Whitman’s basic theory that California’s supposedly bloated state government is the cause of the state’s financial woes.
Citing findings from the independent research group Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy, Salladay reports:
California has the third lowest number of full-time state government employees relative to the population. At 103 state employees per 100,000 state residents, California, in fact, falls 28 percent below the national average.
Maybe all the bloat happens at the local level. Not exactly, the report found:
When state and local government employees (including education) are added together, California has the fourth lowest ratio of employees to population. California had 484 state and local full-time equivalent employees per 10,000 residents in 2008 compared to the national average of 549. Nevada was the state with the lowest ratio (440) followed by Michigan (475), Pennsylvania (478), and Utah (493). California’s ratio was 12 percent below the national average.
Add them together and you find:
between March 2008 and October 2009, the number of state and local government jobs declined by approximately 70,000, while the state added approximately 600,000 residents.
So if the centerpiece of her campaign pledge is built on a house of cards, why is Whitman obsessed with this approach – as evidenced by the endless parade of TV and radio ads she has blanketed across the airwaves months before anyone casts a ballot?
Here's what the San Francisco Chronicle concluded today:
"All of these moves are calculated to help Whitman tap into conservative and Tea Party frustrations with the increasing size of government."
So rather than address the real sources of California’s worsening woes – a tax base starved by the state’s failure to raise taxes on big corporations and wealthy individuals or even close a mountain of corporate tax loopholes, and a broken system that requires a two-thirds vote to pass state budgets or raise taxes, Whitman has decided it is politically expedient to go after working people.
Just like Arnold before her.
Another sign of that is her additional idea, also cribbed from the rightwing think tanks, to cut public pensions and raise the retirement age for public workers. So if you’re a public worker, face the loss of both your job and your retirement security.
This is not a program to fix California, it’s a vision of higher unemployment and more families living in poverty. With fewer people to help you in public life if you need social services, health care, environmental protections, workplace safeguards, and many other public services we all take for granted.