Don’t Cry No Tears Around Me*

Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, a Santa Rosa Democrat, is the chair of a two-house conference committee stitching together a solution that closes a $24 billion gap between spending commitments and revenue.

Evans appeared close to tears as she haltingly delivered opening remarks during the committee’s May 26 hearing.

She said that she had just been briefed on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest cost-savings proposals which include eliminating CALWORKS, the acronym for the state’s welfare program, ending state funding for state parks and phasing out CalGrants, the state’s program to help students pay for college — regardless of economic circumstance.

Respectively, the proposals would save $1.3 billion, $70 million and $173 million.

With respect to the chair, a good friend of California’s Capitol, her response to the GOP governor’s proposal is wrong.

First, there is no reason to get emotional over a plan that isn’t real.

During his tenure as governor, Schwarzenegger has proposed numerous cost-savings ideas– and then backed away.

How many boxes went KA-BLOOEY?

A proposal to close a slew of state parks in a previous budget was abandoned within 48 hours.

There is a rich vein of empirical evidence in every budget the governor has put forward showing actions that balance the budget but are solutions he knows Democrats will never embrace, such as eliminating welfare.

In brief, the governor’s team has run this play before.

The governor is merely required to present a balanced budget; he is not required to have his plan reflect what a Democratic majority will ultimately support.  

The governor proposes, the Legislature disposes, as the cliché goes.

Another common political cliché is never let an opponent see fear.

One of George Deukmejian’s strengths – and they are quite a few – was greeting proposals by political allies and foes with a stony countenance of almost Spock-like inscrutability. An all-world poker face.

When he grew tired of hearing Democrats criticize him as cold-hearted — he’s anything but — Deukmejian simply asked his secretary to remove the squakbox from his office so he didn’t have to listen anymore. he never let the Democrats know they had gotten under his skin.

Former President Pro Tem of the Senate, John Burton, would commonly begin meetings with lobbyists by growling or screaming or shouting or offering a cacophonous, invective-filled medley of the three.

Over time, lobbyists divined the San Francisco Democrat’s strategy of trying to throw them off their game and would simply yawn, patiently waiting for the verbal storm to pass so real business could be conducted.

A corollary to remaining placid in the face of adversity is recalling that politics is a brutal contact sport played in nice threads.

In essence, as Sean Connery’s character says to Kevin Costner’s Elliot Ness in The Untouchables:

“They pull a knife, you pull a gun. They put one of yours in the hospital, you put one of theirs in the morgue.”

As Costner says later in the movie, “Let’s take the battle to them, gentlemen.”

The governor wishes to eliminate welfare to save $1.3 billion. Write legislation to do so and bring it to a vote on the floor of both houses.

It will fail and the public will be educated as to the consequences of backing the plan.

Would California not lose nearly $4 billion in federal dollars by getting rid of welfare?

Would it not be a tad bit inhumane, particularly in this economic climate, to consign to oblivion those struggling to climb the lowest rungs of the economic ladder?

Are not 1 million children recipients of welfare? Is that what this state stands for?

And so on.

If the governor is pretending his proposal is real, let him defend its merits.

Indeed, as suggested in this space previously, there is value in bringing the governor’s entire revised budget to a vote on the floor to gauge its chances of success.

Another part of the Connery/Costner corollary is to offer more palatable alternatives.

Dedicating sales tax on gasoline to transportation projects is nifty but the plight of California’s poorest citizens trumps. Repeal Proposition 42.

Similarly, the $1.5 billion tax break given to companies, the beneficiaries being mostly located out-of-state, seems something the state can ill afford and far less of a necessity than helping human beings become economically self-sufficient or get a college education.

Does it take a two-thirds vote to rescind it? Sure. So what? Make its supporters defend it publicly.

There are dozens of tax breaks and credits that pale compared to providing modest protection and aid to the state’s most vulnerable citizenry.

See this Legislative Analyst report for numerous candidates worthy of repeal or modification.

And if the state is to “rebuild smartly,” as Treasurer Bill Lockyer encouraged the conference committee at a previous meeting, there is no question maintenance of a safety net for children – poor or otherwise – and those Californians incapable of caring for themselves is far more of core governmental function than subsidizing multinational corporations by letting them use a more generous formula in computing what they owe under the unitary method of taxation.

In short, don’t get sad. Get mad. Call the bluff. Change the conversation. Take off those sweats and go win the ballgame.


*(Editor’s Note: With apologies to Neil Young.)




Filed under: Venting


  1. Greg is right. Don’t start with their assumptions. 2/3 votes can happen and repeals of prior decisions can happen. Start with what are the critical functions that people need and want from govt. Then vote to cut the rest with a 2/3 vote. It can be done. The leg analyst and greg have made suggestions based on different assumptions

    Comment by Barbara o\'c — 5.27.2009 @ 4:12 pm

  2. It is really irritating when journalists repeatedly bash women politicians for showing emotion yet never write anything negative when male politicians show emotion. Bill Clinton tears up in a speech and nobody writes a darn thing. Hillary Clinton tears up and it makes front page news. And by the way, how is John Burton’s frequent irrational, emotional outbursts somehow acceptable and Noreen Evan’s isolated expression of emotion is not? Gender bias, pure and simple. Disgusting.

    Comment by Cher — 5.27.2009 @ 6:29 pm

  3. It would be nice if you were right and this crises was like some of the ones we have had in the past where our political leaders cried “wolf”, but unfortunately, every person I know wth a background in finance thinks this year is different. They all say we have used up the tools we have to postpone the day of reckoning and now we have to pay the piper.

    If Evans is in tears it is because she recognizes that many poor and defenseless people are probably going to be hurt by the current crises no matter what the final product looks like and to me it’s a good thing that someone understands what is happening and at some level cares.

    Comment by Tom Kaptain — 5.27.2009 @ 6:38 pm

  4. Cher, let me be the first to disagree with you

    Comment by Ed Muskie — 5.28.2009 @ 6:39 am

  5. Obviously Cher doesn’t remember (or wasn’t around for) Delaine Eastin’s long-winded tear-fests on the Assembly floor.

    Even her fellow women legislators cringed…

    Comment by NoOneInParticular — 5.28.2009 @ 7:55 am

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