The Pig, the Pony and the Dodo Bird

by Richard Holober, Consumer Federation of California

Each year Californians are treated to a Governor Schwarzenegger makeover when he gives his State of the State address.
Schwarzenegger version 7.0 used a quaint story about a pig and a pony
to emphasize the need for lawmakers of both parties to work together to
solve the horrific budget disaster over which he has presided.

Beyond these conciliatory comments, the speech was filled with the
customary grand gestures, gimmicks and straw men to rail against, that
have become stock in trade for his annual address.

His attempt to hit one out of the park – proposing a constitutional
amendment to mandate that higher education spending be greater than
prison sending – quickly became a swing and a miss when he explained
that he would accomplish this by privatizing the state’s prisons.
Instead of offering alternatives to incarceration for minor drug
offenses and improved rehabilitation services for inmates, he offered
the tired case for privatization that is de rigueur for Republican

Set aside for a moment the many problems with private prisons,
including real doubts that they reduce costs, and the invitation for
yet another special interest industry to dominate Sacramento with a
stable of lobbyists and wide open PAC checkbooks. 

The reality is that the Governor’s privatization proposal is dead on
arrival. Democrats and public employee unions across all sectors will
stop the proposal in its tracks.  And this time a lame duck Governor
can’t repeat his 2005 threat that if the legislature didn’t bend to his will ‘the people will rise up and ‘ I will join them’.

It was refreshing to hear the Governor put emphasis on higher
education funding.  But in reaching for data to back up his concerns,
he let himself off the hook, and conveniently skipped back 30 years to
show how the prison budget has soared while higher education funding
has languished.

When Governor Schwarzenegger took office, California’s general fund spent $5.4 billion on prisons for adult and youthful offenders. The latest budget
he signed allocated $8.7 billion for adult and juvenile corrections.
That’s a 60% increase in prison spending under Governor
Schwarzenegger’s watch, even after substantial reductions to prisons
were made in California’s 2009-2010 starvation budget.

During this time, general fund allocations for the University of
California and California State University systems dropped from $5.4
billion in 2003-2004 to $4.9 billion in the 2009-2010 budget. That’s a
10% decrease in absolute dollars, while total student enrollments at the two university systems grew by 6.8%.

The Governor has often complained about
‘auto-pilot spending’ that tied the hands of lawmakers. His proposed
constitutional amendment would add a new autopilot into the mix. It
would face an additional real world test: California is under orders by
a federal appointed receiver to spend billions more on prison health services.

How would the Governor boost higher education spending to exceed
these mandates for prisons except by raising taxes?   We doubt that’s
where he’s headed when he announces his next budget proposal.

The months are ticking away, leaving few openings for the Governor
to repair his legacy. It would have been refreshing to see a makeover
that included repealing the $2.5 billion in tax giveaways to the wealthiest corporations enacted at the depths of the 2008-2009 recession; joining the rest of the states in requiring big oil to pay its fair share; and adopting progressive tax reforms that restore bank and corporation taxes
to levels that once funded an outstanding education system that, in
turn, fueled California’s growth as a high wage, high skill economy.

Instead we saw another theatrical flourish from a politician headed the way of the dodo bird.