Despite the plethora of budget cuts and economic crises California has seen recently, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is optimistic about his final year in office.
During his State of the State Address on Jan. 6, he announced plans to reform areas such as employment, state budget and education.
Schwarzenegger began his speech with a metaphor about his family pets, a miniature pony and a pot-bellied pig; together they learned how to get into the stored food supply.
“It is the greatest example of teamwork, and I love it,” Schwarzenegger said. “It’s about teamwork. So one lesson to draw from the pig and the pony story is what we can accomplish when we work together.”
This story set the tone for the rest of Schwarzenegger’s generally hopeful speech. He cited the accomplishments of the legislature during the past year, including the passage of legislation targeting low-performing schools and the major water reform package.
Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg said he appreciated Schwarzenegger’s positive attitude.
“The governor’s tone was excellent,” Steinberg said at a press conference. “The governor loves California, and his dedication to our state shows and shines through.”
Although he praised the legislature’s progress, Schwarzenegger did not ignore the great deal of work left to be done.
“If I had to summarize in one word our focus for the coming year, it would be the word ‘priorities,'” he said. “We have to get them straight, and we have to keep them straight.”
For Schwarzenegger, one top priority is employment. He introduced four proposals to spur job growth:
– A $500 million jobs package
– A measure to streamline the permitting process of “green” construction jobs
– A proposal concerning homebuyer tax credits for the purchase of new or existing homes
– A proposal to exempt purchases of green-tech manufacturing equipment from sales tax.
Dean and Professor of Management at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management Steven Currall is in favor of these initiatives.
“I am particularly supportive of the Governor’s efforts to create new jobs in the area of ‘green’ technology,” said Currall in an e-mail interview. “It is vital that California cement its position as a global leader in industries relating to environmental sustainability and clean energy. Successful job creation programs will serve as a magnet to attract talent from around the world. As we build a first-rate talent pool, that will serve to further attract businesses to the state.”
The governor also proposed an overhaul of the state’s tax system and voiced his support of a plan created by the Tax Reform Commission.
“The basic problem is that our tax system does not reflect our economy,” Schwarzenegger said. “In 2009, California’s economic growth declined only by 2.8 percent but our tax revenues were down more than eight times that much.”
Currall also said California’s current tax system sets up a difficult economy.
“California must recognize that it is competing for businesses and jobs with states that have lighter regulatory burdens,” he said. “With respect to taxes, we must again be cognizant that we are competing against other states that may have less burdensome tax systems, such as Texas and some other states, which levy no personal income tax.”
California’s budget deficit is a well-known source of problems throughout the state. Schwarzenegger called the budget crisis “our Katrina.”
“We knew it was coming,” he said. “We have known it for years. And yet Sacramento would not reinforce its economic levees.”
The governor said additional budget cuts must be made to address California’s $19.9 billion budget deficit, although he stressed that these are painful decisions.
“It is forcing us to make a Sophie’s choice amongst our obligations. Which child do we cut? Is it the poor one or is it the sick one? Is it the uneducated one or is it the one with special needs? That is cruel,” he said.
However, despite his acknowledgement that further cuts are inevitable, Schwarzenegger vowed to protect education. He proposed a constitutional amendment that would prevent prisons from ever receiving a higher percentage of California’s money than education.
“What does it say about any state that focuses more on prison uniforms than on caps and gowns? It simply is not healthy,” he said.
Although many are appreciative of the governor’s protection of education, some believe that a constitutional amendment may be too drastic. Professor of Education and Director of the UC Davis Center for Applied Policy in Education Tom Timar is skeptical about the proposed amendment.
“It all sounds nice, but I don’t know how we’re going to be able to pull it off,” he said. “It’s going to take hard choices, leadership and real spine to effectively govern California in these times.”
Schwarzenegger also called for more federal funding for the state, citing that other states receive disproportionately more money than California.
The governor asserted that President Barack Obama’s health care reform plan would only put more of a financial burden on California and urged the legislature to vote against it. One opponent of this decision is Speaker of the Assembly Karen Bass.
“I think that’s a premature call,” said Bass in a press conference. “I am so excited that on a national level we are on the verge of a historic piece of legislation that is going to expand healthcare to millions of people.”
The governor said California will have to make some difficult decisions in the coming year, but he remained optimistic.
“If I had hesitated in my career every time I made a move because it was too hard, I would still be yodeling in Austria,” he said.
SARAH HANSEL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.