Published on Sunday, November 23, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
California Cruelty, Arnold-Style
by Seth Sandronsky
In California, the other shoe is dropping. Less than a week after becoming the new governor in a recall vote, Arnold Schwarzenegger has launched an assault on government spending for the poor.
Of course, he is doing this in the name of reducing the state's budget deficit. Fiscal austerity is in fashion when it weakens government's safety net for folks short on cash.
Schwarzenegger's finance director, Donna Arduin, knows the deal. She has experience cutting government spending for needy people in Florida under Gov. Jeb Bush.
Meanwhile, California is like most other states across America. Job losses and business closures have taken their toll on tax revenues, crimping state spending.
Schwarzenegger's deficit-reduction plan is part of the GOP's strategy on the national level. Republicans are using fiscal policy as a tool to make various groups of vulnerable Americans more market-dependent.
Poor people are easy GOP targets for many reasons. The primary one is that they are politically weak.
Schwarzenegger is taking this approach to eliminating the state budget deficit. He first repealed the state's tax on car licenses.
That was a progressive tax in car-centric California. Owners of expensive autos paid their proportional share.
So did middle-income folks. However, they are being squeezed by the weak business recovery more than the prosperous.
Some of the less moneyed may be more receptive to market ideology. One part of it is that tax-cutting will help the economy to grow.
Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, takes a different view. "It is worth noting that in the period from 1945-73, when the United States enjoyed its most rapid economic growth, it also had its highest tax rates on both corporate and individual income," he wrote.
In contrast, making the rich fiscally responsible for their share of government revenues is not fashionable for Schwarzenegger. He is following in the footsteps of President Bush's three tax cuts that mainly have helped the super rich become wealthier.
Now they have more dollars to contribute to GOP campaigns. Democracy loses.
Back to California's car tax. It is connected with a cost-of-living increase for people receiving welfare payments.
"The maximum monthly Cal-WORKS (California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids) grant for a family of three in a high-cost county is $704," The Sacramento Bee reported on Nov. 20. "The cost-of-living adjustment would be 3.5 percent, or about $25."
Twenty-five bucks can buy much cheap food for low-income folks. Or help to pay the monthly transit cost of an adult worker.
Currently, finding work that pays the bills is no easy task in California. In October, the state's jobless rate was 6.6 percent versus an unemployment rate of 6.0 percent nationwide.
However, driving down state government spending on needy people makes them more reliant on the job market. Thus they are less likely to demand a raise from their bosses.
Here is the fist inside the velvet glove of the "new" approach to politics that Schwarzenegger harped on in his recall campaign. He is backing employers by making the lowest paid of the employee class more desperate for wages.
In this way, Schwarzenegger is trying to improve the state's business climate and budget picture. The governor has said that both were the result of weak leadership by the recalled Gov. Gray Davis, a big-spending Democrat.
GOP strategy in the Golden State, aping that at the national level, is to use corporate media as a drum to build public consent for defunding government programs that help low-income folks. On Nov. 20, Schwarzenegger appeared on KFBK radio in Sacramento, owned by Clear Channel Communications, to speak with host Tom Sullivan.
"Severe" consequences in the Nov. elections await state legislators who oppose his budget solutions, Schwarzenegger warned on Sullivan's show. Apparently, the governor is no longer going to be a nice guy with his political opponents.
It is worth noting that Sullivan hosts a so-called moderate show. He is the radio station's "good cop" in the afternoon to the morning "bad cop" of Rush Limbaugh.
Against that backdrop, it is Gov. Schwarzenegger versus the Democrats who control the California Legislature in the battle over the state's budget deficit. Presumably, the governor's cutting of the vehicle tax increase shows his steely resolve to do what's needed to balance California's books.
He is also doing his part for fiscal responsibility by waiving the $175,000 salary paid annually to the governor. No doubt the state's needy appreciate the symbolism of this multimillionaire's salary rejection.
After all, personal sacrifice is the road to riches, according to market ideology. The poor have merely made, well, faulty personal choices.
The idea that a market economy creates wealth for a few such as Schwarzenegger and his Fat Cat backers, and poverty and instability for the many must be sidestepped. The constant stream of market-friendly politicians and pundits on right-wing media is proof of that.
Meanwhile in California, we have the self-made man of Hollywood fame basically trying to take the means of life from those least responsible for the state's economic downturn and budget blues. How cruel.
Seth Sandronsky, a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento's progressive paper. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org