The Governator Wants Your Tax Dollars

In 2000, when I visited Vietnam to report on events surrounding the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, beggars in the socialist paradise would follow me, a “rich” Westerner, everywhere I went. At the advice of my Vietnamese friends, I always shook my head to say no, but I had a weak moment at a downtown park in Hanoi after being approached by a woman carrying an infant. After giving her a couple bucks, other beggars around the park started making a beeline toward me. I ended up, literally, running down the street to get away from them all.

I recalled that scene in the wake of recent economic news. The federal government has handed out cash to the insurance giant AIG and agreed to pump $700 billion into the nation’s financial system to bail out struggling lenders. Now others are chasing after the taxpayer dollar. Beleaguered U.S. automakers got in on the deal also. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal noted in an Oct. 12 editorial, “[n]ary a soul squealed about the $25 billion rescue of U.S. automakers two weeks ago. ... These days, $25 billion is the equivalent of pocket change spent at a garage sale.”

And if no one complains about 25 billion bucks, then why should anyone even mention the latest beggar chasing after a temporary taxpayer bailout – i.e., California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who might seek $7 billion from the federal treasury to tide over our profligate-spending state for a while. This is the equivalent of an individual seeking one of those high-interest loans in anticipation of a federal refund check. It's a sad commentary, but don't expect anyone to learn the right lessons here.

The governor has since backed away from that emergency request, but Schwarzenegger’s letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson captures the “blame someone else” sentiment common in Sacramento: “Like many other states, California is feeling the enormous effects of this crisis on our economy,” the governor wrote. “Absent a clear resolution to this financial crisis that restores confidence and liquidity to the credit markets, California and other states may be unable to obtain the necessary level of financing to maintain government operations and may be forced to turn to the federal treasury for short-term financing.”

That’s priceless. We’ve got a state government that can’t say no to any sort of spending and a governor who blames the national financial mess for the state's current mess. He predicts dire consequences if the state’s bloated bureaucracies can’t get a quick fix of taxpayer cash. For some reason, I don't lie awake at night worrying that, say, the DMV or the state arts commission might be a little short this month.