On Friday Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger asked for $6.9 billion in federal funds to fill California’s $20 billion dollar budget gap for his last year in office.
The sorry state of the world’s eighth-largest economy has long been a news fixture, but pleading for federal dollars to plug the hole is a new twist. In his state-of-the state speech last week, Schwarzenegger focused on the fact that California only received $0.78 in federal services for every tax dollar it sends to Washington. The main drains are things like state-wide Medicare reimbursement rates, border protection and prisons.
“We are not looking for a federal bailout, just for federal fairness,” Schwarzenegger said.
Because the state has a relatively high per capita income at $61,154, about $9,000 higher than the average per capita income, it gets less federal dollars for certain programs. But with up to 35 other states projecting budget deficits this year, the federal government will likely be wary of setting a precedent in California.
“I don’t think many voters in California are holding their breath that the feds are going to bail them out, especially not above other states in the country,” Thad Kousser, an associate professor at Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the West, said.
Schwarzenegger has changed his tone from the anti-government crusader he was last year. Now, plans for increased revenue come from programs that include beefing up traffic cameras that catch people speeding and charge them $225 for going 15 mph over the limit. The program is projected to bring an additional $400 million in revenue.
Despite a budget full of cuts, the governor did include some small increases in funding, such as an additional $12 million for policing of health-care professionals. The LA Times reported that California recently faced a three-year backlog in investigating and disciplining errant nurses, who were in the meantime allowed to stay on the job and continued treating patients while complaints against them languished in the bureaucratic health system.
“Although it is an important step that Gov. Schwarzenegger is now talking about cuts as painful choices rather than simply eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse” as he did last summer, it is no surprise that he didn’t propose tax increases,” Kousser said. “Selling those will be the job of Democratic leaders in the legislature.”