In the height of California’s annual fiscal fiasco, the Republicans in the Golden State thought that their state should have a balanced budget. California’s media reported that the GOP were unwilling to compromise and they had hijacked the budget – over the summer, the press got it wrong.
This week, Arnold announced that California was nearing a financial disaster; had California’s leaders balanced the budget, things wouldn’t be so bad – but that would have been a political taboo; no legislative leader wants bad press coverage for holding up the budget.
According to media north and south of Sacramento, the reason for the budget mess over this summer was that Arnold did not call for a meeting between legislative leaders in California, which is called The “Big Five” meeting. In past meetings, legislative leaders and the governor lay their budget goals on the table and the governor makes promises of what will and won’t get cut.
Over the summer, the press never even talked about the origins of the “Big Five” or why such meetings take place every year.
On August 3rd, The San Francisco Chronicle discussed how GOP Senators wouldn’t meet with the governor, nor would they accept an unbalanced budget, the chronicle reported:
“[Arnold’s] biggest immediate problem, political analysts said Thursday, is that many of his fellow Republicans are unwilling to follow his lead - especially the 14 GOP senators who have held out against a $145 billion budget because it would spend more next year than the state expects to receive in tax revenue.”
The press assumed that the governor’s meeting with the Big Five (legislative leaders) behind closed doors to cut a deal was acceptable – why did no one in the media question this procedure? Where was the watchdog role of the media? If the government wouldn’t do an analysis of the budget over the summer, why didn’t the media analyze the budget?
In Sacramento – both budgets of the assembly and senate included plans for seizing and selling people’s family heirlooms, stocks, bonds and bank accounts for the purpose of adding revenue to the general fund – it’s called unclaimed property. Legislators’ drink on the job – it’s called budget negotiations. The California State Constitution allows legislatures to take a week off, but receive pay as though they never left work – it’s called per diem pay. Assembly Republicans, who typically value balanced budgets, opted for the Assembly Democrat’s plan of giving tax breaks to Tinseltown than pass a balanced budget – it’s called special interests. Typically, legislators don’t begin budget negotiations until after the fiscal year begins – it’s called business as usual.
Everywhere else, this type of leadership is called irresponsibility -- where did California’s press corp. go wrong; isn’t it still the media’s role to act as a watchdog?
The Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday:
“Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger swept into office in 2003 promising to end the state's pattern of "crazy deficit spending," cut up the government credit cards for good and force the state to finally live within its means. So much for that.”
Excuse me Los Angeles Times -- California’s plans for “living within it’s means” is not possible when public discourse, as represented by the media, calls for the GOP to abandon their position of having a balanced budget, which is exactly what happened this summer.
Why hasn’t California’s media evaluated the “rainy day” plan of Governor Earl Warren?
In 1943, Governor-elect Earl Warren outlined a plan to set aside large World War II surpluses that would essentially build the UC system, lay the framework for California’s highway system, make California K-12 schools the best in the nation during the 1950s and 1960s, expand the welfare system, and eventually help earn California a place among the world’s top economic powers. (The text from his speech can be found in the library of the California Taxpayers’ Association). The “rainy day” plan is the clearest example of what fiscally sound budgeting can accomplish – this was responsible leadership; where is California’s responsible reporting?
In California, 36 million people rely on services and infrastructure each day. Every service and every piece of infrastructure in California is affected by the budget. So why are people tuned-out? If the people demanded more information – information that would make their legislative leaders look pretty foolish – wouldn’t the news industry want to provide them with in-depth information?
Maybe part of the problem is that the press doesn't think in quantitative terms, as USA Today reporter Anthony DeBarros told students at the Washington Journalism Center. He said that the press usually shies away from large-scale projects where lots of numbers need to be analyzed – the type of project the media would need to undertake to conduct a budget analysis.
The best way for the press to serve California is to do its job. California needs a budget watchdog.