Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Big Mouth: So the official fiscal crystal ball holder for Schwarzenegger, Warren Buffett, shoots his mouth off about property taxes being too low in California, and suddenly Arnold is on the hot seat, decalring his "unequivocal" and "rock solid" support for Prop 13. This is a bad sign for Arnold, not necessarily because he's on the run from a big-name advisior, but because he's been taken by surprise. He started out with a great message: Bring the tax base back to California instead of driving it away. This was the lesson New York learned after David Dinkins had managed to tax the Fortune 500 out of the city, which is why Giuliani got elected. But Arnold should remember that Giuliani was a tough bastard who alienated as many New Yorkers as he won over. Arnold is running as a popular reformer -- likeable, gives good sound bite in that crazy accent, opposed to the "special interests," whatever that means. Giuliani's tenure was more of a medecine-taking; everybody in New York (it seemed) hated it, hated him, and wanted to be rid of the tyrant . . . just as soon as he'd made the city worth living in again.

So what does this have to do with Arnold? Back to his message, to save California by expanding the economy: Excellent long term plan, but what's the Giuliani plan? What are the hard cuts you're willing to make right now to start things moving, the ones that will make every red-blooded Californian damn you to hell? What tax hikes can be made? Nobody can claim greater hatred of taxes than ol' Enobarbus, but it has to be on the table in California, or else services will have to be cut, at least in the short term. Again, as an ideological matter, I'm not opposed to cuts in state services. But as a political matter, I realize that liberal Californians generally are opposed to cuts, and liberal Californians make up a large part of the electorate. Arnold's defense of Prop 13, a clear signal that property taxes are off the table, makes his job harder. He's already criticized Davis on fee hikes, so those are taboo, too. Suggesting a state income tax raise would be ballot-box suicide. About all that's left is that stepchild of trickle-down economics, the liberal trickle-down: keep borrowing and spending, funding services at current rates of growth until the economy booms (cf. Clinton's "victory" over the deficit) or until the tax base has entirely disappeared and you get voted out of office (Dinkins again).

Word is that Schwarzenegger will start talking economic specifics this week. Not a moment too soon.

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