Schwarzenegger flies into Washington to plead for federal dollars for California

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California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger met lawmakers on Capitol Hill Thursday to push his request for $6.9 billion in federal dollars to help plug California’s $20 billion budget gap.

The governor had a productive conversation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to her spokesman, spoke to California Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and discussed Medicaid formulas and reimbursement with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

“We had a really good meeting. What I said at the outset is: We represent the same constituents so we really need to work together,” said Senator Boxer. She added that they had received seven requests from the governor and were at work on most of them.

While the federal government can engage in deficit spending, California is required by law to balance its budget every year. Like many states, it’s facing an economic crunch mostly due to factors such as the national decline in housing prices and falling tax revenues.

Although California’s GDP is larger than any other state’s, it’s the second time in the last 12 months it has faced a troubling budget situation. In late spring, the Golden State closed national parks and increased public state university tuition in an effort to plug the hole.

Two weeks ago, Schwarzenegger surprised many people in his “state of the state” address when he focused heavily on the fact that California only receives  $0.78 in federal services for every tax dollar it sends to Washington. As he said in that speech, “We are not looking for a federal handout, just federal fairness.”

The governor would like higher reimbursement rates from Washington for programs like Medicaid and more money for programs that he feels force an unfair burden on California because of its location, such as those related to immigration.

“It sounds like the governor is looking for someone else to blame for California’s budget. California’s budget crisis was created in Sacramento, not Washington,” said Senator Feinstein at the time. “These problems are not going away until there is wholesale reform of the state’s budget process.”

Many experts and insiders are skeptical that the governor will get what he is asking for.

“There appears to be very little chance that this will lead anywhere,” said That Kousser, associate professor at Stanford’s Bill Lance Center for the West. “Since he dubbed himself “The Collectinator” shortly after he was first elected, Governor Schwarzenegger has had little luck convincing Congress — especially the Senate, which gives small states great power — to change their funding formulas to increase our state’s share of federal spending.”

There is wiggle room in the $52.5 billion in stimulus money already headed California’s way. The governor aims to gain flexibility in how to spend it. The state received $32.5 billion in stimulus money last year, and repurposed some of it to address its budget problems.

In December, the House passed a jobs bill that included provisions for sending additional stimulus dollars to states that are suffering, and the Senate is expected to take up similar legislation soon.