Note: I'm Robert Cruickshank, Public Policy Director for the Courage Campaign
Meg Whitman is a master of slick campaigning. Her feelgood radio and TV ads are designed to make her seem like a moderate, pragmatic person who will help cure what ails California. Just today she launched her second TV ad, one in which the word "Republican" is never mentioned.
When it comes to the #1 task our next governor will face - solving the budget crisis - she is offering a continuation of Arnold Schwarzenegger's slash-and-burn cuts. But you wouldn't know that from Whitman's ads. She doesn't make reference to her refusal to embrace new revenues to save popular and vital services, even though the public supports doing so. Instead she offers vague pleasantries that mask her true intentions to destroy what remains of the California Dream.
That needs to change.
The Courage Campaign is taking the initiative by launching a new TV ad showing what will happen if Whitman's proposed cuts become reality. We're calling it "Meg's California" and we're going to air it on TV screens across the state - with your help. If you pitch in and donate to air the ad, we can finally get some progressive narratives out there challenging Whitman's emphasis on cuts.
California currently faces a $20 billion budget deficit for both the remainder of the 2009-10 budget year (about $6 billion) and the 2010-11 budget year (about $14 billion). The Legislative Analyst's Office projects an annual $20 billion deficit for years to come, including most if not all of the first term of our next governor. So let's say that the next governor has to deal with an annual $20 billion shortfall, largely owing to the structural revenue shortfall - the fact that we have artificially low tax levels designed to make it impossible to fund our ongoing core services.
How will Whitman deal with it? She has not yet offered a comprehensive budget package, and may not do so at all during the entire campaign. She's likely to try and keep skating by with vague promises of "fixing California" and "solving problems" - but as we've seen, California's budget crisis needs genuine solutions.
Whitman's website emphasizes "spending" as her budget category, showing that she continues the right-wing framing of our budget problem being a spending problem. Whitman has also called for widespread tax cuts that, although undefined in nature and amount, will widen further the existing budget gap.
So it's clear that Whitman rejects tax increases as a solution (otherwise the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association wouldn't have endorsed her). That leaves her with budget cuts and cuts alone as the solution to the state's crisis.
Whitman's proposed cuts are also generally vague and unspecific. But there is no way she can offer a cuts-only budget without hammering hard schools, parks, libraries, health care services, and the other services the Courage Campaign ad defends.
Specifically, Whitman wants to fire 40,000 state workers, apparently out of the belief that higher unemployment is good for the state. The average base pay for California state employees in 2008 was $63,815. Multiply that by 40,000 and you get $2,552,600,000. Just $2.5 billion, which would leave Whitman with another whopping $17.5 billion left to cut out of the budget.
That's about the total amount the state spends on higher education and on prisons. Medi-Cal, IHSS, Cal-WORKS, and other important human services take up billions themselves. If Whitman wants to close the budget deficit with no new taxes - and even wants new tax cuts - she's going to have to make massive cuts to the kinds of services we featured in our ad.
In short, she's going to hang "closed" signs on public services and buildings and parks across California.
We expect Whitman to respond to this ad by saying she's not actually proposing to cut schools, parks, libraries, health services, etc. As I just demonstrated above, such a response is simply not credible given the size of the deficits she'll face as governor, and given her own refusal to countenance new revenues.
This is just the start of the Courage Campaign's efforts to hold Meg Whitman accountable. Her bad math and flawed budgeting stands completely opposed to the priorities of the people of California. With your help, we're going to show that to the people of this state. Click here to get "Meg's California" on the air.