Outgoing California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took the occasion of his final address to the Sacramento Press Club to jest about being the “second most famous immigrant in the history of California.” Meg Whitman’s maid, he joked, is first in line for this honor.
Self-deprecating humor may entertain the Sacramento elite but the governor’s record is no laughing matter. Today he leaves us with a $6 billion deficit that balloons to nearly $20 billion next year, and even the authenticity of these figures is dubious due to massive accounting gimmicks in Sacramento. Our credit rating is lower than that of a banana republic. The state budget is a bloated, red-ink-bleeding mess. Wealthy earners and young talent exit in droves, forced by an actual unemployment rate of 22%. Forty million dollars per day is being borrowed from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits as the state suffers from some of the worst economic conditions in the nation.
The scent of monumental decline is in the air, and the Schwarzenegger government has played a heavy hand in the mess.
Arnold assumed office riding high on rhetoric of cutting taxes, rescinding recalled Democratic Governor Gray Davis’s car registration tax hike, and returning the Golden State to its previous luster.
I think back to this time in the state’s political history as exciting. The mood of California was sour toward leadership and folks were ready for a change. Even liberal strongholds were disgusted with Sacramento and Davis. Above it all, here was a guy who emigrated from Austria (his accent to this day negates the need of a birth certificate as proof) in search of the American dream. He was getting a chance at the reins of the Golden State. Conan was poised to drive his liberal enemies before him, to the benefit of fed-up Californians.
He listed Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan as framers of his worldview. I recall William O’Neil of Investor’s Business Daily fame describing him as “tough under pressure” and “just what California needed.” I was in my mid-20s and operating a business here, and this endorsement from IBD’s founder certainly made me more enthusiastic. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association along with statewide tax groups also emphatically endorsed him before the election.
Starting out, he lived up to most of his promises to fiscal conservatives and libertarians. He slashed $150 million from the state budget, cut the onerous Davis “car tax” hike, took on the DMV, promised to go Terminator and “blow up the boxes” of Sacramento bureaucracy, and even instigated a political street fight with the powerful state unions. The latter surprised even me and I cheered it on. He seemed open to Cato Institute suggestions for the state economy and was even rated one of the few “A” governors by Cato in 2004. The Governator even welcomed the Reason Foundation’s suggestions for the state. It was almost like we had a leaner, buffed-out Chris Christie figure in our midst.