California got $7 billion in state grants from Porkulus, and an opportunity to catch their breath while they attacked a monstrous state budget that desperately needs pruning. Congress has now begun to consider Porkulus II, with even more block grants for states, enabling them to paper over serious budget gaps. But that’s not enough for Arnold Schwarzenegger, who wants an additional $8 billion from the feds in order to bail out a state that seems incapable of governing itself:
Facing a budget deficit of more than $20 billion, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to call for deep reductions in already suffering local mass transit programs, renew his push to expand oil drilling off the Santa Barbara coast and appeal to Washington for billions of dollars in federal help, according to state officials and lobbyists familiar with the plan.
If Washington does not provide roughly $8 billion in new aid for the state, the governor threatens to severely cut back — if not eliminate — CalWORKS, the state’s main welfare program; the In-Home Health Care Services program for the disabled and elderly poor, and two tax breaks for large corporations recently approved by the Legislature, the officials said.
Schwarzenegger also will propose extending a cut in the state payroll that is scheduled to expire this summer. That cut has translated into 200,000 state workers being furloughed three days a month, the equivalent of a 14% pay cut. Lawmakers would have the option of extending the furloughs, imposing layoffs or some combination of the two.
The governor is scheduled to unveil his plan publicly early next month. Administration spokesman Matt David declined to comment on the details.
We can look at this from two perspectives. Taken at face value, a bailout request is an insult to the federalist model of state sovereignty. The basic act of governance at any level is creating a budget and determining which functions to fund and at what level. California has failed at this for the last few years, and only stayed out of bankruptcy in 2009 because of the Porkulus cash. Coming to Washington, hat in hand, should carry a big penalty for California and any other state demanding that citizens of other states subsidize their incompetence — say, the loss of voting rights in Congress until the money gets repaid. After all, if they’re asking to be a federal protectorate, why should California have any more privileges in Congress than Puerto Rico or other federal protectorates?
On the other hand, one could see this as a political ploy better known as a Briar Patch Strategy. The likelihood of getting $8 billion from Washington for a bailout approaches the same odds as Barack Obama attending the ribbon-cutting at a coal-fired power plant, for two reasons. One, Washington doesn’t have the money, and two, giving California a bailout would mean having to do the same with most of the rest of the 50 states looking at a sea of red ink. The Governator understands this, but knows that he has to ask before demanding the kind of deep cuts necessary to get California back in the black. In a replay of Br’er Rabbit, Schwarzenegger wants Obama to throw him into the budget-cut briar patch rather than going there himself.
Whether by design or desperation, California’s political class is not likely to get another reprieve from doing its job properly. Schwarzenegger can blame that on Obama or Congress, but either way, he’s going to have to make big cuts in the budget and quit using accounting tricks to hide the red ink.
Update: Don’t expect the briar-patch strategy explanation to impress anyone, either. As HA commenter Cubachi put it on Twitter, “The Governator transformed into a girly-man.”