The Blog

18 Days

A look at Governor Schwarzenegger's roadmap for his first weeks in office.

12:00 PM, Nov 18, 2003 • By BILL WHALEN
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The state's fiscal outlook is a tad more complicated. When California's budget was approved this summer, the projected deficit was $8 billion. That figure has since grown to $10 billion. Tack on the car-tax reduction and it projects to $14 billion. Schwarzenegger's solution? It may be a mega-bond, for the March ballot, that would borrow enough to pay off the short-term deficit but also include a cap on future spending (say, limiting higher spending to inflation and population growth). Insiders call it "the burrito bond," as it places the state's fiscal woes under one wrapper. Already, it gives some Democrats heartburn: State treasurer Phil Angelides and controller Steve Westly say they won't go along with a deficit bond unless Schwarzenegger is more specific about fiscal discipline.

Still, this likely will be another quick victory for the new governor. Why? Two reasons. Schwarzenegger already enjoys the upper hand in the budget debate as the guy sent to Sacramento to clean up the legislature's mess. Public surveys back this up, with voters supporting Arnold's policies by a 2-1 margin). Second, Democrats will recognize that floating a giant bond enables them to avoid deeper, immediate spending cuts. The loyal opposition won't roll over for Schwarzenegger (symbolically, perhaps, Democratic Senate leader John Burton gave Arnold a cigar lighter in the shape of a middle-finger salute), but it will be unusually pliant given his post-recall mandate. The governor may also try to extend the honeymoon atmosphere by delaying a fight with unions and trial lawyers over workers' compensation reform.

ALL THAT'S LEFT for Schwarzenegger until next January, when he has to submit his own budget, is finding a place to live. At present, he's renting a suite at the downtown Hyatt. Talk about a metaphor for bad government. California is one of only six states in the country without a governor's mansion. One former residence is now a museum. Another, built in the 1970s, has never been occupied. It's a white elephant that's listed for $5.9 million, and no realtor can move it. California did create a Permanent Residence Commission to find the site for a new residence near the Capitol. But that would require tearing down an existing bureaucracy--i.e. downsizing government.

Such is the new role for Arnold Schwarzenegger as. It won't always make sense. The victories won't always come easy. But he won't lack for entertainment during his next 1,000 days.

Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he follows California and national politics.