January 13, 2008 - My, my, my.
Only a year ago, Gov. Schwarzenegger was telling us we were in good shape financially, with no need for a rainy day fund. Now he says the wolf is at the door.
He's planning to lock the gates at 48 California state parks and beaches.
And give get-out-of-jail-free cards to tens of thousands of prisoners statewide.
And slash school budgets.
These and many other draconian horrors have been proposed by the governor who rose to power on three main recall promises:
No more gaping budget holes. No more reckless borrowing. No more out-of-control fundraising and caving in to special interests.
Is it time for Total Recall: The Sequel?
Just as Gray Davis failed to anticipate the dot-com slump and its effect on the budget, Schwarzenegger has left us unprepared for the housing bust and the rest of the current slump.
And one of his solutions to a $14-billion budget gap is more borrowing on top of what was already record-breaking borrowing, which would mean years of debt.
Need I remind you this was the guy who promised to tear up the credit cards?
Some would argue that Schwarzenegger's threatened budget hacking was designed to prime us for tax hikes. Whether he's trying to play us or not, I've lost confidence in his ability to lead us past the wolf and out of the woods.
What choice did I have but to reach for the phone and dial three ringleaders from the 2003 recall of Davis?
Congressman Darrell Issa, who financed the petition drive to end "business as usual" in Sacramento, must not have gotten the interview request I sent to his flack.
Former California Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian, a self-proclaimed hero of the recall, did not return a call.
But Ted Costa, the anti-tax crusader and the man who drafted the Davis recall petition, was on the horn right away.
"We've got to get it going again," I told him.
Costa seemed confused.
The recall, I said. The recall.
All the same conditions are there again, I told Costa, and there has to be another "throw the bum out" campaign.
"There probably should be," Costa agreed, warming to the idea.
The beauty of a new campaign, I told Costa, was that he didn't even need to rewrite the petition that was signed by more than 1.3 million angry, not-gonna-take-it-anymore Californians. Just change the name on the petition and we're ready to roll.
To refresh his memory, I read directly from the 2003 document that fired the revolution and drove Davis into retirement.
"The grounds for recall are as follows: Gross mismanagement of California Finances by overspending taxpayers' money, threatening public safety by cutting funds to local governments . . . and failing in general to deal with the state's major problems until they get to the crisis stage."
Sound a little too familiar?
"California should not have to be known," the petition went on, "as the state with poor schools, traffic jams, outrageous utility bills, and huge debts."
I was there when Schwarzenegger told Warren Buffett to keep his mouth shut about the need to tinker with Prop. 13. It was the same day Arnold said that even his kids are smart enough to know you don't spend money you don't have.
I was there when Schwarzenegger dropped the wrecking ball on an Oldsmobile to symbolize the end of the car tax increase. He failed to mention that municipal budgets would be bled dry as a result. And now he's proposing a bump in vehicle registration fees to finance the DMV and Highway Patrol, along with an insurance fee (not a tax, mind you) to pay for firefighters.
Where's the wrecking ball now, and doesn't this all add up to gross mismanagement?
Well, sure, Costa agreed. But he rightly pointed out that Schwarzenegger didn't screw things up all by himself.
"We've seen it from the governor and we've seen it from a Legislature that didn't compromise on a budget," Costa said.
Can we recall all of them? I asked.
"Someone has to light a match under their" rear ends, Costa said.
Exactly. So where are Issa, Kaloogian and all the other recall rebels when we need them most? Come on, boys. Arnold's California Comeback Express has gone off the rails, and if there's going to be another Total Recall bus tour, we need a new driver.
Oh, wait. I've got just the guy for the job.
"I'm retired from politics," Davis insisted. "I'm a senior statesman now."
In that role, he advises that it's definitely time for the state to create a rainy day fund. As for the never-ending budget battles, he summarized the problem perfectly:
"If there's money on the table, the Democrats will want to expand programs and the Republicans will want to expand tax relief, and the dollars on the table will disappear."
All the more reason for someone with fewer car-crunching tricks, and more leadership and cunning, to lead the call for a painful combination of modest spending cuts and modest tax increases.
"It's a hard job, you bet," Davis said. "But nobody makes you run for governor."
Or, to quote Mr. Schwarzenegger, back when he pretended to have all the answers:
"Do your job for the people, and do it well. Otherwise you are hasta la vista, baby."