Looking Behind the Scenes

Governor’s state of the state was idle breath

By: Jim Ruffalo
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Slashing useless items from the notebook while realizing that Conan the Barbarian’s sword is a prop; there’s no way it can make any cuts ... Apparently the scimitar isn’t the only ersatz item in the Sacramento legislature, judging by the Governator’s brief cameo which doubled as the State of the State speech Thursday morning. We all knew he wasn’t going to trot out his usual laundry list of laudatory proposals and legacy-makers, but the more naive of us did expect a suggestion or two. After all, even the dullest of us can return from a lengthy Idaho ski-cation with a new thought or two. But, no. Instead, all we got was the usual finger-pointing, complete with enough hackneyed soundbites to put together yet another B movie. Seems that lately, we cannot see the forest for the cliches. After observing that annual kabuki-dance which passes for the budget process in California for the past too many years, we’ve all grown wearily accustomed to this brand of government inaction. Democrats never met a tax proposal they didn’t like and Republicans never saw a program they couldn’t eliminate. Yet despite that intransigent behavior, past governors managed to govern. This current budget was due in June. Now in defense of recalcitrant office holders, we taxpayers never said which June, which would explain why we are now still budget-less while being closer to June 2009, than to June of ’08. It’s painfully true that the legislature is not blameless in this mess. This understandable standoff stems from the fact that it’s tough to cut costs when just about every program passed is almost the direct result of asking “how many votes will this one buy us?” On the other hand; what’s new? Those occupying most of the legislative seats these days wouldn’t know how to make an honest day’s living. Precious few of them have never run their own businesses, or done any real work, or for that matter, pay their own way. That’s why states need strong governors. But we voters made the mistake of measuring strength as in how many pounds can you bench press. Little did we know the real heavy lifting would involve dead weight. Our governor does us a real disservice with his failure — or perhaps inability — to lead. Arnold Schwarzenegger wasted even the scant 10 minutes he used Thursday. He should have used that time to make some suggestions as to what should be cut, and which programs should be protected and, therefore, be in desperate need of additional tax revenues to continue being funded. Instead, by my count, we got about three minutes of comedy-store intros designed to invoke applause, and another couple of minutes cloying, clinging to some real heroes, namely our firefighters. He did suggest that unless a budget is crafted on time, then legislators go unpaid as soon as the deadline is reached. No doubt, he’s forgotten that governors, reporters and even pedestrian columnists dust off that chestnut about every three years, and with the same predictable lack of action. Republicans earlier had a better suggestion, one where they would cut elected officials’ salaries — including their own — be 10 percent during this entire economic crises. That idea died for lack of a Democratic second. Local Assemblyman Ted Gaines suggested an improvement on that idea. He says not only freeze the salaries, but completely lock down the state house until the tardy legislature can produce the mandated document. Oddly, while many in the legislature don’t like the idea of cutting some of their own salaries, they don’t seem to mind suggesting that extremely low-paid and overworked In-Home Health Care workers get their paltry paychecks pared by 11 percent. Schwarzenegger did mumble something about “each of us has to give up something,” although again was mighty short on specific suggestions. Well, allow me! How about we give up “prevailing wages” when letting government labor contracts, or limit the costly “green fees” designed to placate enviros while adding huge amounts to government costs? Ending duplicative regulations would go a long way in cutting back, and so, too, would be rooting out wasteful government policies. And what about the biggest boondoggle of all — per diem for our legislators. Don’t they make enough to pay for the few meals they actually get charged for, to say nothing of that great gasoline credit card or vehicle stipend. And why not end at least a few of those practically useless state commissions, although where a termed-out legislator would then go is beyond me. Our problem is when you get your governors from Central Casting, you don’t always get a star. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. Reach him at