Outnumbered in voter registration. California Republicans took cheer from the reelection of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last November. They were in for a surprise in January, however, when they learned the meaning of his inaugural declaration that California was entering a new era of “post-partisanship.”
First, he announced a plan to provide health insurance for the approximately 6.5 million Californians who do not have it. This is a popular idea, according to pollsters, though respondents tell them they don’t want the government to provide it. The governor’s answer: require everyone to have health insurance and mandate all businesses with 10 or more employees to provide it. If they don’t, they would be required to pay the equivalent of four percent of their Social Security-taxable wages into a fund to subsidize insurance for working people without insurance.
Schwarzenegger’s plan also would levy a four percent “fee” on the gross — not net — revenues of California hospitals and two percent of doctors’ revenues. Back in 2003, his predecessor Gray Davis (ousted in a recall later that year) signed a bill forcing businesses to pay most of the cost of “universal” health insurance. Schwarzenegger denounced the scheme. A year later, voters tossed out the law in a referendum. Ironically, Schwarzenegger is the one who is reviving it, in a slightly different form.
The governor is careful to call these levies on businesses, hospitals and physicians “fees,” not taxes, though they are taxes. He has two reasons: 1) In his reelection campaign he pledged not to raise taxes; and 2) a new tax would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature, which would be problematic.
The Schwarzenegger scheme also relies on the assumption that federal funds would pay about half its cost, as if federal money, like manna, fell from heaven instead of coming the pockets of taxpayers. It doesn’t bother the governor that under his plan the citizens of 49 other states would be paying to insure only Californians.
Along with his health insurance scheme, the Governator announced with a flourish that, under his state budget for fiscal year 2007-08, “our new operating deficit has been reduced to zero.” This comes after years of multi-billion-dollar deficits.
How will he do this? “Operating deficit” is the term to watch. It is the rabbit he is pulling out of the hat; the rabbit of assumptions. These assumptions leave out certain expenditures, expect $3 billion in spending cuts the legislature is unlikely to make, raid sales tax revenue intended for transportation, and add revenue that would come from new compacts with casino-owning Indian tribes. The plan also counts on saving $1.1 billion by winning, on appeal, two lawsuits it has already lost at the trial level.
The latest Schwarzenegger pet project is to move the 2008 presidential primary from June to February. He says, “We’re kind of an afterthought when it comes to presidential campaigns…all these guys come out her and they clean up; they take the money and run. Millions and millions of dollars — both parties.” So, he wants more bang for the buck; more “clout” for California. The last time the legislature did this, moving the primary to March, nothing came of it. The Democratic National Committee threatens to take away about 30 percent of the state’s 2008 delegates if this measure passes.
Democratic legislators, however, like it. They are now subject to strict term limits and would like to put a liberalizing measure on the ballot in an early primary. If it were to pass, they could then run for reelection in the June primary, which must be held in any case for state legislative and congressional races. Word around Sacramento is that Schwarzenegger will agree to this in exchange for a measure to take redistricting out of the legislature’s hands.
The last time Schwarzenegger plumped for a special election, 2005, it cost the taxpayers $50 million and they handed him his head, in the form of sharp defeats of his pet measures. This time the price tag for “clout” will be $80 million.
We know one thing about “the era of post-partisanship”: It will cost a bundle.