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Schwarzenegger unwavering in budget demands

September 1, 2010 |  2:54 pm

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took the opportunity to play the part of a calm, steady hand in the Capitol on Wednesday morning, following the chaotic close of the legislative session the night before.

He resisted scolding lawmakers, who spent more than four hours debating competing partisan budget proposals that stood no chance of garnering the necessary two-thirds vote for passage -– and then left for their districts without taking any action on the long overdue budget. However, he did reiterate that he will not sign a spending plan -– now two months overdue -– that does not rein in runaway pension costs and reform the state's volatile tax structure.

The governor lectured the media about what he perceives to be misconceptions about the budget process. Among them, he said, is that there is not enough time to move big reforms forward. "It takes simply more will and more courage," he said. "Not more time."

In an ironic twist for a governor who often talks about fleeing Europe for opportunity in America, he said lawmakers now need to think more like the Europeans. He noted how Germany and Britain slashed their budgets in the face of massive deficits and have been rewarded with economic growth as a result.

"Those countries have recognized the failed policies of the past and are will willing to make the changes," Schwarzenegger said. "That is exactly what California must do."

The governor left out a point made by liberal economists: that social spending in Europe continues to dwarf that of California despite all the budget cuts in those countries.

Schwarzenegger made no apologies about his plan to travel to Asia on a trade mission next week regardless of whether a budget is passed. "I think it is a very important way to stimulate revenues for the state of California," he said of the trip. "There are billions of dollars of deals than can be sewed up, that need an extra push."

He also responded to GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's suggestion, made at a campaign event earlier in the day, that if lawmakers weren't paid in the absence of a state budget, they would get to work and make sure one passed.

"I have been talking about that bill for years," he said. "We have tried to pass that legislation and see if it will work upstairs." He noted that lawmakers balked at passing a bill that would require them to post their salaries and those of their staffs on the Internet -– though the state Senate began posting the information regardless.

"Just a simple bill that was supposed to go and show how much money they are making up there has stalled," Schwarzenegger said. "So how are you going to go and get them to pass a bill that they will not get paid when the budget is not done?"

Schwarzenegger also took a predictable jab at what he and other critics see as the generous pension benefits many government employees receive. He blamed the escalating costs -– and resistance to bringing them under control -– for some of the cuts in government services he has proposed.

He suggested union bosses and their allies in the Legislature, by not agreeing to curb pension benefits, "are taking the money from those poor people. They are taking the money away from higher education. They are taking the money away from parks. ... They say, 'Oh, my God, the governor is cutting.' But they are doing the cuts."

-- Evan Halper in Sacramento