Julie with a B

Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Partisan rift . . .
From the LA Times:
Spending Plans Fall Victim to Politics
-Democrats appear set on killing budget items that might win the governor points with the public.
By Evan Halper, Times Staff Writer

The plan to partner the state with local farms to get fresh fruit on school breakfast trays hardly seemed controversial, and it wouldn't have cost much.

But it apparently had a fatal flaw: It was championed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Legislature swiftly rejected the $18.2-million program in budget hearings this month, leaving the nonprofit group that pushed for the project stunned.

"We didn't see this coming at all," said Ken Hecht, executive director of California Food Policy Advocates. "We were shocked."

Some Democrats even suggested that the governor's inclusion of the food program in his budget plan was a political stunt, an effort to obscure an overall strategy that leaves schools without funding for basic services.

Administration officials have said repeatedly that such programs represent creative thinking and are part of their push to find new ways to improve conditions in schools.

The fresh fruit project was one of several advocated by the governor and caught in the political crossfire between him and Democrats in recent weeks.

Democrats are so angry at Schwarzenegger over a number of his policies that they appear especially determined to block items that might win him points with the public as he tries to boost sagging approval ratings.

"The relationship between Democrats and the governor is at an all-time low," said Democratic strategist Darry Sragow. "You have to view these budget issues in the context of everything else going on in Sacramento, including what appears to be an impending special election. Anybody who is trying to get their program funded is going to have to deal with those cross-currents."

The Democrats have targeted a few big items, like the governor's plans to spend $100 million reducing class size in low-performing schools and to boost the pay of teachers in those schools. Major school groups had criticized them as window dressing to divert attention from much larger education needs they say are unmet in Schwarzenegger's budget, and Democrats were quick to agree.

But grass-roots groups were taken aback to see the Democrats dismiss so many of the smaller initiatives the governor sprinkled into the proposed budget he released May 13, such as the plan to bring fruit to schools.

Among other programs that have fallen by the wayside as the political tussle intensifies are a measure to help seniors get affordable prescription drugs, a nurse training initiative at community colleges and an expansion of vocational education classes for seventh- and eighth-graders.

This was a poor move for several reasons. First the Governor is already doing a fine job of reducing his affectiveness. He campaigned on many promises to straighten out the State with suggestions as to how he would do it. He demonstrated early on that he didn't know of the limited reach of the California governorship. He couldn't do it alone. Then he proceeded to try to bully his way into into areas where he needed help from the legislature and threatened them with special elections if they didn't come to heel. He made a list of items for the schools that he promised to accomplish and has reneged on most of them. There isn't much that could raise this man's popularity polls.

What the Democrats are doing now is hurting the grass roots movements that have gotten these initiatives this far, alienating the very people that they want to keep on their side.


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