SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - It was only five years ago that then-Governor Gray Davis was booted out of office because of looming budget deficits.
And it was the same five years ago that Arnold Schwarzenegger stepped up to the plate and became governor on a platform of reform, fiscal prudence and, ahem, balancing the budget.
It's a lot easier to do things in the movies when the script is written your way, right governor?
Today, Schwarzenegger stepped in front of the television cameras to outline how he thinks the state should deal with an $11 billion problem, a problem that seems to grow every time someone decides to run the deficit numbers again. Maybe they should lock up all the calculators at the Department of Finance and just keep printing state checks. It seems to work for the federal government.
Governor Schwarzenegger shows the depth of the problem
The governor is proposing a 1.5 percent hike in the state sales tax - a tax hike which GOP members of the legislature will not approve, even with Schwarzenegger's massive biceps twisting their arms. On the other side, he says it's also time to take another whack out of all education budgets, including $132 million from the University of California and the California State University.
As mentioned here last week, the Chancellor of the CSU, Charles Reed, already came up with $31.3 million when the governor asked for voluntary contributions to solve the fiscal crisis.
The state is in an ever-tightening fiscal corner, a result of voters approving so many bonds and initiatives over the last 30 years - all of which require special payments here and there. The state legislature and governor really don't have much maneuvering room, except to go after school budgets which represent about half of the state's general fund.
And schools have their own legal mandate (Proposition 98) for how much money they are supposed to receive from state coffers, a mandate that is in the process of being suspended and/or simply ignored as the legislature and governor watch the budget deficit growing.
So what's to be done?
The sales tax hike - the one that GOP leaders are going to oppose and block - is absolutely required. Not that any member of the Republican party will agree and vote for it. Republican Assemblyman Jeff Denham's email to journalists hit my mailbox before the ink was dry on the governor's proposal.
Denham memo to the press
But what about reducing spending?
Can the CSU and the UC take a $132 million reduction? Probably, though there will be plenty of squealing and a dozens of high level administrative conferences (with concomitant travel expenses) on how to handle it.
Can K-12 (and community colleges) really take a $2.5 billion reduction?
Doubtful, not if the public expects things to run as they are.
Run as they are? Hmmm... Maybe it's time for a more radical approach.
Perhaps we should considering shutting virtually all school-house doors, until, oh, say April 1, 2009 - or how about next September? Turn off the lights, the heat, disconnect the telephones and furlough everybody on half-pay, except for administrators and school librarians.
The administrators should get a full-time, unpaid furlough. If there's nobody working, then there are no teachers to administer. The teachers on half-pay can catch up on all the papers they haven't been able to grade and hire themselves out as tutors to students whose parents really want their kids to learn.
And the librarians? Keep the school libraries open and keep the librarians at it on full salary, or maybe with a bonus. If the students still have access to the old technology of books and the not-that-new-technology of computers - and other neat stuff - they will still learn, plenty. Ask any parent of a home-schooled child.
The students might learn enough, perhaps, to offer suggestions to the Legislature on how to deal with the budget deficit and how to avoid the same problem in the future.
Maybe they will learn about Gray Davis, too, and why his recall was mostly about politics, not money.