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California Dreaming? Governor To Ask Feds For Funds

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger unveils his budget proposal Jan. 8. He travels to Washington on Wednesday to request $7 billion in new federal money for California, part of his plan to plug his state's $20 billion budget gap.
Rich Pedroncelli
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger unveils his budget proposal Jan. 8. He travels to Washington on Wednesday to request $7 billion in new federal money for California, part of his plan to plug his state's $20 billion budget gap.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger travels to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to pass the hat and ask the feds for cash.

Schwarzenegger's plan to erase his state's $20 billion budget deficit relies on billions of federal dollars. And if the state doesn't get the money, he proposes eliminating entire social services programs.

'The Collectinator'


Schwarzenegger's plan isn't new. The former Terminator star started calling himself the "Collectinator" — the guy who would get the feds to give California more money — back in 2003.

Just days after winning the recall election in 2003, he met with then-President Bush in San Bernardino, Calif. And he said things would change.

"For each dollar that we pay, we only get 77 cents back," Schwarzenegger said. "So there is room to play with. I'm absolutely convinced that we can get help, and that we will get help."

And yet, more than six years later, at the presentation of his new budget in early January, the governor — and the state — are still waiting.

"I promised the people of California that I will be fighting for California, and that I will go and do everything I can to get the federal money that we deserve," Schwarzenegger says.


Federal Funding 'Unfair'

This time, though, the governor has taken the demand for more federal money to a new level.

His final budget — and maybe in some ways, his legacy — now hinge on $7 billion in new money from the feds. That includes $5 billion for things like health care for the poor and welfare assistance; $1 billion for special education programs; $95 million for foster care; and reimbursement for the cost of housing prison inmates who are undocumented immigrants.

"For us to get stuck with the bill of incarceration of undocumented immigrants of $900 million is unfair," Schwarzenegger says. "We're going to fly to Washington, and we're going to fight for that money."

Lately, the governor has been fighting mostly with members of his own congressional delegation, jabbing them for not doing more to level the playing field for Californians. Now, they are jabbing back.

"The whole premise that somehow California is being disproportionately treated is just false," says Rep. Zoe Lofgren.

The Democrat says that for one thing, Schwarzenegger is using old data. She says a recent review that takes into account federal stimulus money suggests California is getting as much as $1.45 in federal services for every dollar in taxes.

Lofgren also says that while the state's sluggish economy could still use some help, Schwarzenegger is spending too much time blaming the federal government.

"To pretend that he's not the governor and somehow he doesn't have a role in the continuing saga of the California budget nightmare is really a disappointment," she says.

Others say the governor is asking for the wrong money, the wrong way. Dozens of states find their budgets in the red this year, they say, and Schwarzenegger would be smart to have allies in the fight for federal help.

"If you want to win the support of Congress, our governor should be going to Washington arm in arm with the 40 or 45 other governors who are also facing budget shortfalls this year," says Jean Ross, who leads the California Budget Project, which advocates for programs aimed at the working poor.

Ross says the governor should focus his D.C. lobbying on a second national stimulus package. In the first one, California was awarded $85 billion — more than any other state.

Schwarzenegger said last week that a second stimulus wouldn't solve the problem.

The question, though, is if he hasn't gotten what he's wanted from the feds in the past, when things were better, does he have the political leverage to get it now, when his job approval numbers are low and he's in the final year of his term?

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