- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 5, 2004

The Terminator turned back the assault of the girlie men, but it wasn’t a cakewalk. He showed both skill and mettle, and took a risk as well.

He signed a $105.4 billion budget, taking no truck with new taxes, which pleases conservatives and just about everyone else in California. But he committed himself and the state to horrific borrowing. This horrifies the conservatives and unsettles everyone else.

“This budget keeps California on track for economic recovery,” Arnold Schwarzenegger told a carefully assembled crowd for the signing ceremony in Sacramento. “We see that businesses are coming back now. I am convinced that California will become again the powerful job-creating machine that it once was. We proved again that if both parties work together in a bipartisan way, we can accomplish anything.”

Well, if not anything, at least a lot. But Ben Franklin (“neither a borrower nor a lender be”) is spinning in his grave, disturbing the thrips and nematodes, and upsetting a lot of very live Republicans and other conservatives. The governor cut $116 million in health and “human” services benefits, but in a budget of the size of California’s — which is approximately the size of the budget that Lyndon Johnson presented for the entire United States 40 years ago — $116 million is not a lot of money. (Full disclosure: One of the cuts was to the automobile-licensing fees, and millions of Californians got a rebate on their tags, including me, because I keep a 17-year-old Toyota Camry in Los Angeles to use when I visit my grandchildren. The rebate is extremely popular even among Democrats. My check was for $33.07, which I used to buy a milkshake machine for my granddaughter’s 12th birthday. She made the first shake, a chocolate malted, for me.)

But the governor persuaded California cities and counties to accept $2.6 billion in discretionary cuts, and in exchange the governor agreed to support a measure on the November ballot to restrict the state’s ability to take money from cities and counties in the future.

The Terminator’s deal has costs. As befits the ethos of the current era, when, as Scarlett O’Hara would say, tomorrow is another day, the budget includes few long-term reductions in spending.

“With his signature on this budget, Gov. Schwarzenegger has broken his word to the people of California to end the state’s ‘crazy deficit spending’ and balance the budget,” says state Treasurer Phil Angelides. “All he has done is box the people of California into years of paying for his debts and deficits.”

This is the kind of talk that stalked Gray Davis for years until he was bounced from office in that remarkable recall election last year; it was the second half of the recall proposition that put Arnold Schwarzenegger in Sacramento. The Republicans, as opposed to the Democrats that the Terminator famously scorned as “girlie men,” are willing, for now, to defend him. “This governor didn’t go out and overspend,” says Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the Legislature. “He held back. He could have gone further, from the standpoint of, if we didn’t have the Democrats controlling the place.”

The governor is in Las Vegas this week, familiar turf for any celebrity, talking up California to visiting industrialists. He has carefully husbanded his celebrity status and still draws squeals from the crowds that gather quickly around. He will sweep into New York City later this month with celebrity intact, to make Republicans swoon when he speaks to the Republican National Convention.

He’s raising money for future ventures at a rate unprecedented in California politics. Since New Year’s Day, he has collected $13 million, including $4.5 million from his own pocket. He has more than a million dollars already in the bank to support or fight the ballot initiatives for which California is famous, leaving a considerable sum to start his 2006 re-election campaign. A Terminator knows that even the girlie men can get you if you don’t watch out.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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