As Arnold Schwarzenegger prepares to exit the Capitol, critics continue to dismiss him as a neophyte and an interloper -- a foreign-born Hollywood superstar who, as governor, was out of touch with the average Californian.
As it turns out, Schwarzenegger's greatest failing wasn't his outsider status. On fiscal matters, he was far too Californian. He wanted to have it all -- infrastructure, education, prisons and environmental protection -- but he was reluctant to pay for it.
Schwarzenegger's first act upon winning the recall election was to slash the car tax -- the vehicle license fee -- which immediately added $6 billion to the state's structural deficit. He then convinced voters to borrow billions more on a promise to "tear up the credit card," which he did not do.
He joined with those who wanted to borrow billions for stem cell research, roads and other projects. He had a grand vision for the state. He wanted to be another Pat Brown. But like so many Californians of his time, he mortgaged his future -- and the state's future -- on the myth the economy of the Golden State would stay golden forever.
When the bubble burst, the consequences of depending on gimmicks and refusing to "pay as you go" became horribly worse.
Schwarzenegger's other shortcoming was becoming part of a Capitol culture he once loathed. He came to office promising to be the "sunshine governor" and make state government more transparent and responsive. Yet with his Big Five meetings with legislative leaders and deals cut in the cigar tent, he solidified the public's perception that the Capitol is a place of smoke-filled rooms, where only connected special interests can get their way.
Partly because of the recession and partly because of his own actions, Schwarzenegger leaves the state in worse fiscal shape than when he started. But his tenure also will be marked by major reforms.
On out-of-control public pensions, Schwarzenegger insisted upon, and received, a rollback of benefits for newly hired state workers to levels that existed prior to a 1999 deal approved by lawmakers of both parties. That will reduce the state's long-term pension obligations, and reduce the risk that California could end up in the same boat as Vallejo.
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