Arnold Acting on Budget
January 14, 2004
Doesn’t Arnold look good? No matter what the camera angle or lightning, day or night, inside or outside, that rascal is chiseled and tanned and verily glowing with handsomeness and charm. You know it. He’s got a hell of a smile, too, at once split-front toothy and warm and empathetic. It’s a smile full of optimism. No, optimism isn’t a positive enough word for Arnold. His smile is full of confidence. It perhaps is even more than that. It is a smile of certitude. Arnold knows damn well he’s going to win. Being human, he must have self-doubts sometimes. But he usually discusses a setback only to illustrate that he overcame it en route to astounding success and fame as a body builder, then dwarfed that career with a string of box office explosions that have made him the top one-name phenomenon in the world. Elvis. Ali. He’s as hot as they ever were, and he’s been hotter and healthier a lot longer. Arnold Palmer? We’ll forever have to use his surname unless it’s clear the conversation is focused on a golf course.
The Arnold now has his greatest role, unless, that is, the constitutional amendment is changed – as some in congress are trying to do – and you won’t have to be born here to become President of the United States. You’ll only need to have been a citizen for twenty years. And you can well surmise how long Arnold’s been a citizen. Maybe he and his proxies will win that legislative battle, and he’ll succeed George W. Bush in 2008. The man’s a big time winner, and I’m not being facetious. I admire him. I’m as much under his spell as most people. I can’t help it. He’s got that dangerously addictive attribute called charisma. He’s always had it. Back in the late 1960’s, this young Austrian fellow with the then unpronounceable last name was more famous than all other body builders combined. He still is. I was in high school and in those days we didn’t talk as much about charisma as we do now, but most of us heard it: Arnold Schwarzenegger is charismatic.
Now Arnold is the Governor of California, and he surely knows – force of personality not withstanding – that he cannot continue to be a winner unless he beats the hell out of the budget deficit. That foe, as you and he and I have doubtless remarked, is a lot tougher than any barbell or movie script. California is larger than most countries, has the world’s fifth largest economy, a $99 billion dollar budget, and is as socially diverse as any continent, hosting immigrants from every place on earth, not merely the Europe of Arnold. California also has lots of people who aren’t stars. California has millions of people who haven’t been able to grab the American Dream. California has a long line of people who need help. And on the last point I refer not only to the unfortunate, but to the middle class. Most of us want to have adequate funding for education, health care, social services, highways, parks, and fill in whatever you want because in America we are taught to want it all. We should try for all that is reasonable.
And at this point things get tough. They get tough for the economists and others responsible for overcoming the budget deficit. They get tough for Arnold. They’ve already gotten tough for people who’ve lost jobs and benefits. But in this story they don’t get tough for me because I’m not going to grind out many financial figures. That would be impossible and impossibly painful to even try. I dropped out of Economics 1A years ago after getting an F on the first test. I’d have gotten a lot more F’s if I’d continued. I’m getting F’s right now trying to figure out what the hell decent people should really do. A lot of general statements have been spoken and written. I’ve been keeping track of some of them in recent articles in the Los Angeles Times, the Bakersfield Californian, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Associated Press. Grimacing while chewing through this dense material, I outlined the key points in seven of those articles.
What are those key points and a few of my own? They are as follows:
- The $15 billion bond Arnold proposes is much worse than a tax because it represents money the state would have to pay interest on for many years before paying back the principal.
- Characterizations of Arnold’s budget as being full of “special effects” and “hocus pocus” and sounding like it was written by Gray Davis are essentially correct.
- Too much is being asked of the poor and not enough of the rich.
- The only way to overcome any deficit – personal or governmental – is to control spending and to increase revenues.
- The only prudent way for a government to immediately increase revenues is to raise taxes.
- If revenues are not immediately increased, the budget deficit will inevitably become more cavernous.
- Politicians are terrified to raise taxes, though by now it’s oft been recalled that such anti-tax and spend governors as Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson hiked taxes during their first terms and survived to serve again. (Of course, it should also be noted, George “Read My Lips” Bush raised taxes and got axed).
- A modest tax increase would be sufficient. Twenty-seven billion bucks – the cumulative deficit projected through next year – isn’t that much for a state of 35,000,000 people. If each person pays an additional $771 in taxes over the next two years, a reasonable $386.50 per year – about $32 a month – the deficit would be erased.
- True, not everyone in the state pays taxes. There are a lot of children and unemployed, for example. But if people paid what they reasonably can, based on income, the additional revenue would erase, or at least sharply reduce, the deficit by April 15, 2006.
- Are Arnold and his wallet-heavy backers going to use common sense math and do something like this? Only if Arnold wants to keep being a winner.