In Arnold's Budget, Only The Strong Survive

California's $85 billion spending compromise is finally complete. Governor Schwarzenegger signed the bill today. In doing so, he chose to unilaterally eliminate some additional parts of the budget through his line-item veto power. Through the Associated Press report of these items, you might think that the Governor hates the weak -- as that's who most of his cuts affect. Let's test this theory.

Here's what the AP says:

Schwarzenegger used his line-item veto authority to save an additional $656 million that will let the state restore a reserve fund he says is needed for tough times.

Schwarzenegger's vetoes include $80 million from child welfare programs; $61 million in county funding to administer Medi-Cal, California's version of Medicare; $52 million from AIDS prevention; $50 million to Healthy Families, the low-cost health insurance program for poor children; and $6.2 million more from state parks.

So let me get this straight: he cut programs benefiting poor kids, poor elderly, preventing a fatal disease, and nature/wildlife. I'm sure his opponents are drooling over this news. In reading this, however, I noticed that it doesn't account for all that he vetoed. It adds up to just $249 million -- less than half of the $656 million in spending he vetoed. Could AP be cherry picking from the items vetoed to make the Governor look bad? To determine that, we need to know what else he cut.

The detail can all be found here (opens .pdf). In summary, here are those other cuts that exceed $1 million (in millions, rounded to the nearest hundred thousand):

$8.3 - California Conservation Corps
$6.2 - Aging
$25 - Community Clinic Grants
$37.5 - In-Home Health Services
$12 - Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Services
$16.3 - Domestic Violence Reduction Program
$50 - Early Start Children's Program
$4.1 - Mental Health Caregivers Resource Center
$2 - CalGrant Student Aid Commission
$25 - Funding for State Employee Healthcare Costs
$27.8 - Williamson Act (helps restrict land to agricultural or related open space use)
$24 - Department of Finance Emergency Funds

That provides about another $239 million of reductions, bringing us to $488 million. The other $168 million are non-veto issues like interest cost savings.

Unfortunately, most of those cuts look to have targets similar to those noted by AP in its article: poor kids, poor elderly and nature/wildlife. This time, we add a few more including mental health, education, domestic violence and emergency funds. These cuts probably also fail to inspire warm and fuzzy feelings.

So should we conclude that the Governor really has no heart? That might be a bit too harsh. Most state government expenditures are meant to benefit the common good and those in society who cannot help themselves. As a result, I wonder if it would even be possible for him to have made many cuts that didn't seem heartless. Here's the rationale that Schwarzenegger gives from that AP article. He doesn't like them either:

"Those are ugly cuts and I'm the only one that is really responsible for those cuts because the Legislature left, they didn't want to make those cuts," he said.

He needed those cuts to create a $500 million emergency reserve fund. If the legislature had acted responsibly and cut enough on its own, according to the Governor, he wouldn't have had to cut anything. But since he had no choice, he took out his scalpel and surgically cut another $656 million off the budget.

I think the Governor's explanation is sufficient. But it could fall on deaf ears come 2010 if he does decide to run for the U.S. Senate as many predict. His cuts could create powerful talking points for an opponent.