Schwarzenegger got it right

Arnold was never the same after his 2005 ballot measures tanked

“Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger got it right”  is not something you hear much these days.  The governor’s poll numbers (like the legislature’s) are dismal, reflecting his inability to deal with the state’s budget crisis.  People forget that Governor Schwarzenegger got it right in 2005, when he tried to pass a series of reforms that may have prevented or lessened our budget mess.  But,  the state worker unions waged an expensive campaign to defeat those reforms.  Now, the governor and voters have the chance to get it right again by passing needed reforms in November 2010.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger got it right in 2005 (his forgotten “Year of Reform”) when he tried to pass a series of reforms in order to bring sanity to state finances.  The Year of Reform is mostly forgotten (even by the governor, it seems) because voters rejected his reforms.  Governor Schwarzenegger’s reforms included spending limits, a rainy day fund, and “paycheck protection” (requiring unions to get the consent of their members before spending their union dues on politics).  His proposed spending limits might have prevented or lessened the state’s fiscal crisis, and the rainy day fund would have softened the blow.  Yet, voters were persuaded to reject these reforms by an expensive advertising campaign waged by California’s state worker unions.

The state worker unions spent $148.5 million to defeat Governor Schwarzenegger’s  reforms.  Perversely, their political expenditures came right out of the pockets of taxpayers.  These unions are able to skim taxpayer money right off the top of state workers’ paychecks.  In the past 3 years, the California Teachers Association has drained nearly $1 billion in union dues out of California classrooms.  And 30 percent of that was for special interest politics – your taxpayer dollars at work.  The state worker unions are the only California special interest group with the power to confiscate taxpayer dollars for political purposes – the reason they defeated the governor’s 2005 “paycheck protection” reform.

The unfair imbalance of power between California taxpayers and the state worker unions helps explain why no meaningful reform is coming out of Sacramento.  It also explains why California taxpayers are paying more and more, but getting less and less.  On paper, California state and local workers are the best paid in the country.  However, this includes the union dues that state worker unions are skimming off the top of state worker paychecks.  State worker union dues necessarily reduce state services (education, healthcare, highways) dollar for dollar (whether for political purposes or otherwise).  And allowing state worker unions to use union dues for political purposes gives them outsized political power that drives runaway spending.

So, Governor Schwarzenegger got it right when he fought for his “Year of Reform” in 2005.  And, the Governor has the chance to get it right today.  There is no quick fix for California state government.  To fix our state government, we must start at the beginning by clearing the obstacles to reform.  The biggest obstacle to reform is the state worker unions who use taxpayer dollars to block reform.

The state worker unions and their Sacramento establishment allies are fighting to reform California by eliminating Proposition 13’s limits on taxation.  The problem with this idea is that plugging the state’s budget holes with higher taxes will slow economic recovery and do nothing to fix the real problem – runaway spending.  And the biggest driver of runaway spending is the state worker unions.

California taxpayer groups are putting a reform initiative on the November 2010 ballot to fix this problem.  The Citizen Power Campaign is proposing to help fix state government by preventing taxpayer dollars from being used for political purposes by the state worker unions.  The Citizen Power Initiative fixes a political game that is rigged against California taxpayers.  It levels the playing field by giving taxpayers and state worker unions equal treatment.

Governor Schwarzenegger has a chance to get it right, again.  Voters have the chance to get it right, this time, too.  It remains to be seen whether history will repeat itself.  It is a tragedy that the state worker unions used taxpayer money to defeat reform before.  It will be farce if they succeed in defeating reform, again.

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