We are all familiar with those scary movies where the seemingly nice guy morphs into a threatening monster over a very short time. Excuse me if I now find myself thinking of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his real life role as California Governor.
With his announcing yesterday that he would oppose Proposition 98 which would protect property owners from eminent domain abuse and provide additional property rights protections the governor’s transformation is complete.
His change was so quick that some may have missed it. So let’s look back to 2003 when citizen Schwarzenegger was running to replace an unpopular governor who was being recalled largely because of his inability to manage the state budget that was billions of dollars in the red.
Schwarzenegger promised a bright future with strict fiscal discipline. The state must live within its means he said. The budget must be balanced without tax increases. He promised to "blow up the boxes" — that is consolidate government departments and programs and seek every available economy and efficiency in the provision of state services. "We don’t have a revenue problem" he famously declared "we have a spending problem!"
Since Schwarzenegger took office little has changed in state government but the governor no longer resembles that citizen politician he promised to be. In the last four years revenue has increased by 29% while spending is up by 36% and the state faces by conservative estimates a $16 billion deficit.
Somewhere Gray Davis is chuckling. And with good reason. Had he not been recalled it is unlikely that the state and its taxpayers would be any worse off today.
Schwarzenegger has gone from a defender of the middle class and those who pay the state bills to just another big government "do-gooder" who sees his popularity tied to providing health care to all regardless of cost and focusing on issues like global warming over which he has little impact.
To add insult to injury the governor endorsed Proposition 93 in the last election which would have extended the terms of office for his big-spending allies in the Legislature. This includes Speaker Fabian Nunez his partner in trying to ram through a $14.5 billion health care plan financed by new taxes disguised as "fees."
And what about his no tax pledge? When Senate leader Don Perata threatened there would be no budget this year without tax increases the governor responded "Everything is on the table." This includes elimination of the mortgage interest rate deduction — in a state where only 25% of families can afford a starter home — and income tax deductions for dependent children. These would be significant tax increases in a state that already ranks 8th in per capita taxation.
This is from the same man who ridiculed Phil Angelides his election opponent in 2006 for openly supporting tax increases.
And let’s not forget the governor’s backing of nearly $55 billion in new bond debt that our great grandchildren will still be paying off decades from now.
But for those of us who hoped that deep inside this political Mr. Hyde there still resided an element of the prudent limited government supporter we thought we knew his rejection of Proposition 98 is the last straw.
Proposition 98 was placed on the June ballot by taxpayers farmers small business owners and owners of rental property to protect Californians from having their property seized by government so that it can be turned over to other private interests for strip-malls and other profit making projects. Currently there exists an unholy alliance between local politicians acting as the redevelopment agency and developers who are willing to do political favors in order to get their hands on prime pieces of real estate. To protect the status quo the League of California Cities has been waging on behalf of their politician clients a no holds barred campaign to defeat Proposition 98.
This is the second effort to bring eminent domain reform to California. The first was Prop 90 which the Governor also opposed. But when he announced his opposition to Prop 90 in October of 2006 — based on his view that the measure was too far-reaching because it would have required compensation for "regulatory takings" — he promised he would try to work for substantive reform that didn’t include those provisions. Here too his words and actions have failed the consistency test.
That he has now sided with the anti-property rights camp is unfortunately consistent with his hard turn to port for the ship of state. We wonder if he is aware that virtually the entire opposition to 98 is being funded by government interests. For these opponents of eminent domain reform no accusation against Proposition 98 has been too outlandish. Apparently their hope is that by the time the public finds out they are lying Proposition 98 will have gone down to defeat.
And now these enemies of California property owners have been joined by our governor and his transformation is clear to all.
Jon Coupal is President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest taxpayer organization — which is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and promoting taxpayers’ rights.