Will the governor’s mansion move from Sac-town to Tinseltown? (No. Kathleen Gurr)

By By Kathleen Gurr

By Kathleen Gurr

California is in a crisis, financially and politically. The state is paying for what experts have called years of “chronic imbalance” between California’s tax revenue and its spending, and many view the imminent recall election as the perfect opportunity to choose a new leader to clean up the state’s fiscal mess. The bad news: No one has a plan.

The race is crowded and heading nowhere. On Oct. 7, voters desperate for a solution will find a ballot overflowing with names (including Arnold Schwarzenegger), but void of concrete strategies for the future. California needs a governor who has more than a big name and big biceps. The state needs a plan of action.

If the goal were to elect a “big ass man,” the Terminator would do just fine. If the goal is to elect an effective, powerful leader with the experience and competence necessary to address the largest state budgetary woes in national history, a capable public servant might be more appropriate than a strapping Austrian bodybuilder.

All the potential candidates have talked at length about the fiscal crisis, throwing out words like “fraud,” “waste” and “abuse” without any specific ideas to remedy the situation. Twittering about California’s size and current disaster makes for a great shouting match, but a poor solution. Schwarzenegger, despite the stir his candidacy has caused in the media, has been alarmingly vague about his plans for the state, particularly when it comes to the budget.

The state’s projected budget shortfall for next year is approximately $8 billion. Schwarzenegger has promised to “cap state spending” with no indication of how he would do it. Amusingly, he has also promised to build schools, hire more teachers and cut vehicle license fees without specifying how-in fact, fulfilling those promises would increase the budget gap to $12 billion. He has also pledged to “enact energy reforms” without specifying what they would be.

Comparing FDR and Truman to a man best known for his stints as a beefy futuristic killing machine is outrageous, not to mention bizarre, considering that the discussion centers on a big state with a creaking budget system, hardly comparable to World War II or the Great Depression. Nonetheless, Arnold’s alleged “can-do” attitude may make him tough, but it doesn’t make him a great leader.

The causes of the budget fiasco are largely structural-it’s about more than just closing the checkbook, it’s about how the money’s being spent, why and what changes can be made without causing more chaos. Bigger, less ambiguous solutions than promising to “cap spending” or “clean house” are needed.

Unfortunately, curbing state spending is much easier said than done. Democratic Gov. Gray Davis tried to cut spending in several areas and his own party’s majority in the California State Assembly wouldn’t cooperate, so a Republican governor shouldn’t anticipate any easy success. The budget crisis requires a thoughtful, long-term, bipartisan approach. Though some assume Arnold’s muscles could intimidate the lawmakers into action, his lack of political experience will slap him in the face. Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante may not have all the answers, but right now he looks like California’s best option.

His dual strategy-urging people to vote “no” on the recall question, but support him in case Davis is thrown out-is expected to get more Democrats to the polls and make the race more competitive. His relevant experience (more than a decade working with the State Assembly) and widespread support from the Hispanic community could give him the credibility he needs to create a tangible strategy to revamp California’s budget.

California needs more than a muscleman rehashing lines from action movies.Arnold is at worst another celebrity ineptly chasing the political spotlight, and at best an amateurish clod whose good intentions deserve a pat on the back but not people’s votes.

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