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Enterprising pols shelve Californians' best interests

Local Commentary

Posted: April 27, 2008 7:36 p.m.
Updated: June 28, 2008 5:02 a.m.
I never cease to be amazed by the great lengths traveled by pols in trampling underfoot the shiny promises made on needy campaign stumps.

And for high school juniors hoping to attend a University of California undergraduate campus in 2009, and for a California public hospital chief-of-staff already having to refuse patients due to mass overcrowding while trying to claw a path out of a monetary hijacking for his hospital, that amazement just became bitter awe.

Yet as Mr. Post-Partisan spreads the budgetary pain nice and thick to nearly every state-funded program, the provocation goes far deeper than just Arnold Schwarzenegger.

From Wilson to Schwarzenegger, with every legislative class in between, these enterprising pols have continually unearthed methods for constipating California's economy, and consequently shelving the interests of those (that's us) excluded from post-campaign policy sessions where stump promises meet politicians' ambition.

Those sessions have climaxed into gouging budget cuts that include possibly forcing the nine-campus University of California undergraduate system into freezing or cutting enrollment for the 2009-10 school year and hijacking needed funds from public hospitals to cover deficit spending elsewhere as California faces an arresting $14.5 billion shortfall for next summer. After running Gray Davis out of town on a rail, Schwarzenegger has modeled his predecessor by proposing corrosive budget cuts for higher education and by his slight-of-hand funding shifts.

So if Santa Clarita is going to hold anyone in contempt for the crippling financial blow dealt our schools, for example, that anger must extend far beyond our governor because this crisis has been molded over many years into a chronic agony.

Autopilot spending
For Schwarzenegger, the "villain" in California's continuous economic hell is our budget system's "autopilot" spending. By that is meant mandatory expenditures arising from predetermined commitments made through such acts as, for example, voter-approved initiatives or ballot propositions.

These programs, irrespective of urgent economic concerns or budgetary priorities, have a locked-in minimum funding that automatically swallows up better than half of California's budget. The alleged culprit, formerly aided and abetted by Schwarzenegger, includes Propositions 98, 42, and 49 and the welfare state's lax cost-of-living-adjustment increases for countless Medi-Cal recipients, to name a few.

This type of spending can prematurely and irrationally handcuff a state capital into blindly guaranteeing funds years in advance of having the reserves to fulfill the obligations. Yet the Wilson-to-Schwarzenegger era has seen a staggering rise in autopilot spending. That don't-pay-as-you-go system inevitably led to budgetary shortfalls, which trigger another beloved Sacramento gimmick for damning-up California's economy: massive state borrowing.

A particular favorite of Davis and Schwarzenegger, California's nearly unequaled recent history of excessive state borrowing has been viewed as a quick fix in shoring up its portfolio during economically hard times.

Excess leads to high interest rates
That excess has often led to exorbitant interest rates being imposed on California, which in turn have presented consistent difficulty for our state in meeting its loan obligations. That, coupled with reckless spending, have given California a notoriously low credit rating and close scrutiny from bond-rating houses. Years of this revolving insanity, enabled by piggish legislative classes and willing governors, is partially to blame for our present economic plight.

Whether it be excessive borrowing, reckless spending, or the raw greed that gives birth to them, California's elected officials have usually proven to be run-of-the-mill pols lacking the wisdom and will to be the fiscally conservative Republicans or pro-growth Democrats that they have claimed to be. Without rampant spending and simultaneous extreme borrowing, California's real estate crisis and job losses in the financial and construction sectors would not have so crippled our state's economy and forced such excessive budget cuts.

Instead, year after year, fat or lean, spending and borrowing were high and saving was scarce. Call me jaded or cynical, but I see nothing in Sacramento's recent history that elicits faith in politicians.

Before you, Santa Clarita resident, contribute to another Cameron Smyth campaign or any pol's ambition, let more than party affiliation and labels like "Reagan conservative" dictate to your wallet and vote.

And Democrats, let more than anti-Schwarzenegger sentiment persuade your decisions. Politics is too important and delicate for such shallow thinking.

Andre Hollings is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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