Pay no heed to the shrill cries of the Democrats in Sacramento as they react to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget. Kindly ignore the lamentations of bureaucrats up and down the Golden State. Never mind the apocalyptic pronouncements of liberal policy advocates. The budget isn't as cruel as the governor's critics want you to believe. It isn't very conservative, either.
According to the governor's budget, general fund expenditures for fiscal year 2004-05 will be roughly $76 billion, compared to $78 billion last year. Despite complaints from bureaucratic Cassandras about callous cuts inflicted upon children and the poor, this is a real cut of only 2.5 percent. Furthermore, as the governor assured lawmakers in his State of the State Address, "These cuts will not be easy, but they will not be forever." So, the campaign to restrain big government is not really a long-term project. Relax, this is only temporary.
This 2.5 percent revolution is only temporary because the terms of the debate have not changed. Despite all the talk of creating jobs and restoring the economy, one must examine the purpose the governor sees for these jobs. New jobs generate new tax revenues, which provide more services and ensure the state's bureaucratic machine remains well fed.
The governor's chief claim to legitimacy is that he can do a better job of feeding that machine than Gray Davis did. And, in the spirit of compromise, he invites all legislators to drop their partisan bickering and get down to the practical business of feeding the machine together.
The difference between Gov. Schwarzenegger and his Democratic opponents is not one of principle, but practice. Democrats prefer that state services be administered entirely by the public sector, while the governor thinks that it should be done mostly by the public sector, with a few scraps thrown to private contractors.
This is a far cry from the understanding of government bequeathed to us by America's Founders. They saw government as limited in the service of the protection of our natural rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Does anyone truly believe that meaningful tax cuts are on the way? Does anyone hold out the hope that the army of bureaucrats in Sacramento which micromanages our daily lives will be disbanded? Hardly. In spite of the governor's rhetorical fireworks, his plan, so far, offers no hope for radical change.
For the time being, it appears that the governor will do what all good Republicans do. Fix the bureaucratic state. Save it from disaster. Rule as caretakers until the next great hero of the Democrats can ride in and expand the reach of government once again. It is only a matter of time.
To be fair, the governor's budget plan is an improvement over the fiscal monkey business of his predecessor, and is probably much better than what would have been proposed by Cruz Bustamante. Schwarzenegger has shown leadership to do what he thinks is best for California. Who's to say he doesn't sincerely think he's doing the right thing?
Perhaps the governor is biding his time and taking a page out of the liberal playbook. Perhaps his long-term plan is to dismantle the bureaucratic machine slowly, just as the liberals built it, piece by piece, over the past 70 years. Perhaps. In the darkest of nights one will naturally fix on any light, whatever the source. The question now is, is that light growing brighter or fainter?