Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's frequently repeated mantra, "Action,
action, action," should be changed to, "Blather, blather, blather."
The governator has been a big improvement from Gov.-reject Gray
Davis, especially as he vetoes some of the worst anti-business legislation
ever to reach a governor's desk, including a minimum-wage hike,
but many of the deals he has hammered out with interest groups and
legislators to "solve" ongoing state crises are now unraveling within
months of the signing.
That's because they lack "substance, substance, substance." In
his zeal to get something done and project an action-oriented image
that conforms to his action-figure status, the governor repeatedly
settled for half a loaf. He so much wanted to be seen as the Great
Conciliator, and move on to the backslapping, cigar-smoking phase
of the deal, that he rarely pushed hard enough for real reforms.
Now we're seeing the results.
Even the best of his deals are falling short, as news reports this
month suggest that the worker's comp fix will provide far less than
the 30 percent annual insurance premium savings promised to businesses.
So far, insurers are raising insurance rates, not cutting
them, and trial lawyers and unions are finding ways around the new
These aren't the governor's fault per se, but the legislation he
backed certainly wasn't stringent enough to fix the worst of the
problems, which means that in a year or two California businesses
will once again be considering their futures - in Nevada.
If that's the best, consider the worst. When it came to negotiating
with the notoriously ham-fisted prison guards union (the California
Correctional Peace Officers Association), the governor was pure
Girlie Man. He entered negotiations with the intent of rolling back
outrageous pay increases Gov. Davis had granted the unions (37 percent
over five years) in the thick of the state's fiscal crisis. Davis
received $2 million from the guards and returned the favor by emptying
the state treasury on the union's behalf.
Schwarzenegger had gotten high marks from prison-reform advocates
for his willingness to look into prison abuses perpetrated by members
of the CCPOA, but he eventually lost his nerve. Both parties approved
an addendum to the guard contract which saves some money in the
short term by suspending for six months pay raises (to be paid later)
but which falls short of fixing the bigger problems.
Shortly after the agreement in July, U.S. District Judge Thelton
Henderson said the Schwarzenegger deal makes it nearly impossible
to secure the reforms needed in the correctional department. "I
must consider the appointment of a receiver over the CDC [California
Department of Corrections] to bring California's correctional system
into full compliance with the court's orders," he added. The judge's
threat to put the system into receivership is not an idle threat,
but is not imminent. It is more of an ongoing possibility, designed
to keep state and federal officials pushing for reform.
It shouldn't have come to that. The governor could have secured
far more reforms, given that the earlier contract granting the union
excessive wage hikes allowed renegotiation if the money had yet
to be appropriated. He could have been firm on accountability measures,
perhaps threatening to privatize the system if CCPOA refused to
"We got nothing in the negotiations," said Sen. Jackie Speier,
the San Mateo Democrat who has been one of only a handful of legislators
willing to take on the union. She said the Democratic leadership
spiked any reforms in the caucus, and only a few Republicans stood
up against this bad deal (i.e., the always-principled Sen. Tom McClintock,
R-Simi Valley, was one). She chalks it up to fear of the union,
with its influence in votes and donations.
"I am so dismayed at what I see because the power of the union
is so strong, and because of the extent of the code of silence,"
she said during an editorial board meeting earlier this month. Here's
an excerpt from a Senate report on the correctional system:
"As documented by the special master draft report on Pelican Bay
released on January 15, 2004, some correctional officers will not
report wrongdoing by their peers because to do so would violate
an unwritten trust among those employees charged with guarding inmates.
Furthermore, the code involves making false statements to protect
This is a pattern of stonewalling, perjury, abuse of power. Yet
instead of being prosecuted, the perpetrators are getting massive
financial rewards thanks to the power of their union and the endless
deep pockets of the California taxpayer.
An inmate bled to death recently without any notice or treatment
by guards. Thirty-four officers were interviewed by the state, none
of whom were subjects of the investigation, yet not a single one
of them would offer any information, said Speier. They all pled
Under the Schwarzenegger deal, guards need not be searched as they
enter the prison. "More drugs are being brought into prisons by
the guards themselves," Speier added. When a guard is under investigation,
the latest contract allows the union to have first crack at all
information regarding the charges - a corruption-abetting process
that wasslipped into the deal surreptitiously.
No wonder district attorneys, especially in rural communities where
prisons are the big employer, are afraid to look into guard corruption.
Same goes with pols. The guards have so much money that they will
spend $1 million to take out any politician that questions them.
Meanwhile, prison officials spend money without any regard for
the budget. CDC's annual deficits are on "a rocket-like trajectory,"
according to Senate documents, with the 2003-04 corrections expenditures
likely to be more than $300 million over budget. In 2004, corrections
officials hired 1,000 people who are not authorized in the budget.
Guards have received raises far in excess of other state employees,
are eligible for retirement packages at 90 percent of their final
pay and have become adept at abusing "physical fitness pay" and
"Last year, prison guards received 'fitness pay' worth $33.2 million
- nearly a sevenfold increase from 1999 - even though they're no
longer required to even take a physical fitness test, much less
pass one," reported the San Jose Mercury News last month. The contract
negotiated by the governor allows guards to receive pay for being
physically fit without a doctor's note, which means that more than
80 percent of guards - already the highest-paid in the nation -
now receive it.
It gets worse. The agreement allows 70 percent of jobs to be determined
by seniority, which means that the union, rather than management,
decides who serves where in most instances.
It's taxpayers' money, after all, so who really cares?
Having a federal judge take over the system might not be a bad
idea. That could happen soon. Soon after that, expect the state's
budget numbers to go south, just as worker's comp crisis II hits,
the Indian compacts fall short of promised revenue, and as predictions
of another electricity crisis become more common.
Is it just me, or is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in danger of becoming
just a really cool Gray Davis?