Like Bush, Schwarzenegger ran as a compassionate, bipartisan Republican, and like Bush, he gave a compassionate, bipartisan inaugural speech. But unlike Bush, he didn't even wait a few weeks before targeting programs benefiting the poor and disadvantaged.
The first round of cuts he proposed, just eight days after taking office, included canceling a cost-of-living increase for 500,000 families on welfare and repealing a law that would allow 66,000 poor families to get food stamps even if they own a car worth more than $4,650.
His first full budget, introduced in the beginning of January 2004, was headlined in the Los Angeles Times as "Budget Ax Would Fall Heavily on the Poor, Ill." Here are some highlights (or lowlights):
- Taking $1.3 billion in property taxes from cities and counties, putting at risk many of the local police and fire services that depend on these funds.
- Cutting $1.9 billion from the state's legally guaranteed funding for K-12 schools and community colleges.
- Cutting $729 million from higher education, which would force tuition increases at CSU and UC campuses of 10 percent for undergraduates and 40 percent for graduate students.
- Trimming California's public universities' incoming classes by 10 percent, which would turn away 20,000 students next fall.
- Making financial aid harder to get by lowering the maximum qualifying income for Cal Grant recipients by 10 percent, hitting many middle-income
- Slashing Medi-Cal by nearly $900 million, including cutting payment by 10 percent to doctors serving 6.8 million low-income patients, which would lead to increases in many co-pay charges.
- Capping a program that treats 37,600 children and teenagers whose families earn too much to be eligible for Medi-Cal but who have severe medical needs. (Some children with cancer, for example, will no longer get state help to pay for chemotherapy.)
- Capping enrollment in the Healthy Families program that provides health care for children of the working poor.
- Cutting 2 percent from AIDS and HIV treatment and prevention programs.
- Cutting cash payments for 1.2 million families that rely on government support to survive.
- Slicing $55.6 million from Public Health funding, including a cap on enrollments in a program aiding people with genetic handicaps.
- Freezing certification of new Adult Day Care Centers, and denying the centers reimbursement for therapy or transportation costs.
- Slashing the CalWORKs temporary cash assistance program by $800 million, reducing benefits for 481,000 poor families on public assistance.
- Cutting by $373.5 million the support services that help the elderly and disabled remain in their homes. Family members would no longer get paid to care for relatives.
- Taking $59 million from the state's trial courts, including innovative programs like drug courts.
The sense of foreboding I felt about the kind of governor Arnold would be has become a tragic reality. California Treasurer Phil Angelides called the Schwarzenegger budget "morally and economically bankrupt." How did we get to the point where eliminating the car tax is more important than all of these things—health care for kids, college scholarships, aid for the elderly and disabled? How many dreams have been eliminated as a result? What kind of people have we become when the measure of our humanity—how we treat the weak, the infirm, and the less fortunate—has been sacrificed for a cheap political stunt that will save most of us about a hundred and fifty bucks a year? Why is it that the car tax had to go, while corporate tax loopholes continue to drain the revenues we need for a small modicum of social justice?
Why, for example, is it OK for Disney to pay only a nickel per square foot in property taxes for much of its land while the average new homeowner in the area pays over 3000% more? As Assemblywoman Loni Hancock put it, "This is like the rhinoceros in the living room. It is one of the major loopholes in our tax structure." Ending the commercial property tax injustice or a modest increase in taxes for the wealthiest one percent of Californians would preserve so many of these essential programs. How is it that just proposing a tax increase, saying the t-word, has become a declaration of war?
Not only are these cuts punitive and unfairly aimed at the most vulnerable Californians, they are not even fiscally sound. In fact, they are the kind of cuts that have unintended—and very pricey—consequences. They make California weaker, in every way. Take the cuts to programs designed to help the blind, elderly, and disabled be self-sufficient. Without these services, many of them will be forced to move into much costlier nursing homes—at taxpayers' expense. The same is true of the rate cuts for doctors, a move that will force many poor patients to use hospital emergency rooms as their primary (and more expensive) means of medical treatment—again with California's taxpayers footing the bill.
As for cuts to the state's food stamp program, these will deprive the state of tens of millions of dollars in federal funds. In fact, nearly $1 billion more in federal money would be coming to California if the state didn't have some of the most stringent food stamp eligibility requirements in the country. Meanness, it turns out, doesn't come cheap.
Meanwhile, back at Fanatics' HQ in Washington, the brutal realities of three years of declining federal revenues are reflected in the president's 2005 budget. The administration is planning to place a drop in the revenue bucket by cutting $1.6 billion from the housing budget, which will keep local agencies from issuing housing vouchers to over 250,000 low-income families. Another drop is to be added by forcing veterans
to pay more than twice as much for their prescription drugs. Indeed, the 2005 budget cuts funding for veterans by $13.5 billion over five years. And just as SARS, Mad Cow, and a deadly Asian bird flu are topping the news, the administration is scaling back funding for the National Institutes of Health. All to help finance the president's tax cuts. These measures barely make a difference to the budget deficit, but each one makes a world of difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
And in states, cities, and towns across the country, the consequences of Bush's reckless tax cutting have been disastrous as local governments are finding out the true meaning of trickle-down economics. Faced with a cumulative shortfall of $200 billion, states have resorted to desperate measures like deferring employee salary payments, cutting health
care coverage and child care assistance to low-income working families, cutting back K-12 education, instituting double- digit increases in college tuition, borrowing against future revenues from the tobacco settlement, and raising fees for divorce filings—assuming, no doubt correctly, that a $50 increase won't reduce the number of divorces.
Alabama provides a startling case in point. Seeing no other option, the conservative Republican governor, Bob Riley, proposed a $1.2 billion tax increase to begin to bridge a deficit canyon and guarantee some protection for the state's millions of poor citizens. The antitax fanatics waged a relentless and well-funded campaign against it, the voters defeated it, and now Alabama's schools are unable to afford textbooks or computers, state troopers work a four-day work week, and five thousand inmates have been set free from the state's prisons.
In George Bush's home state of Texas, meanwhile, the nationwide collapse in public health insurance programs, especially those protecting children, has meant that 160,000 Texas children lost their health care coverage. The state has also been forced to cut back on Medicaid for pregnant women. Punishing the weak and vulnerable simply because they lack the resources to fight back is not the American way. But, thus far, responsibility for the pain these very real cuts are inflicting on millions of Americans has not been laid where it belongs: on the welcome mat at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.