What Will Meg’s California Look Like?

Note: I’m the Public Policy Director for the Courage Campaign

Meg Whitman isn’t having a very good week. But if she gets her way and imposes her vision on California with her budget cuts, we’ll look back and think losing a debate and defending against charges you exploited your housekeeper was a walk in the park compared to closed schools, closed libraries, and closed lives.

When it comes to solving the budget crisis, Whitman proposes to continue of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s slash-and-burn cuts in order to deliver a huge tax cut to her and her wealthy friends. But you wouldn’t know that from Whitman’s ads. She doesn’t make reference to her refusal to embrace new revenues to save popular and vital services, even though the public supports doing so. Instead she offers vague pleasantries that mask her true intentions to destroy what remains of the California Dream.

That needs to change. The Courage Campaign is taking the initiative by relaunching our TV ad showing what will happen if Whitman’s proposed cuts become reality. It’s called “Meg’s California” and we’re going to air it on TV screens across the state – with your help. If you pitch in and donate to air the ad, we can finally get some progressive narratives out there challenging Whitman’s emphasis on cuts.

You may recall that we launched this ad back in February, and with your help we succeeded in getting it on the air. As Californians continue to debate budget solutions, including those Whitman proposes, this seemed like the perfect time to put this bit of progressive messaging back up on the air. And there’s more where this came from – we have other videos in the pipeline over the next few weeks to tell a progressive story about California’s future.

Below the fold I take a closer look at Whitman’s budget plans, and how they will lead to the outcomes depicted in the ad.

California currently faces about a $19 billion budget deficit for the 2010-11 budget year. Worse, the Legislative Analyst’s Office projects an annual $20 billion deficit for years to come. So let’s say that starting in 2011, California has to deal with an annual $20 billion shortfall, largely owing to the structural revenue shortfall – the fact that we have artificially low tax levels designed to make it impossible to fund our ongoing core services.

How will Whitman deal with it? She has not yet offered a comprehensive budget package, preferring instead to try and keep skating by with vague promises of “fixing California” and “solving problems” – but as we’ve seen, California’s budget crisis needs genuine solutions.

Whitman’s website emphasizes “spending” as her budget category, showing that she continues the right-wing framing of our budget problem being a spending problem. Whitman has also called for unaffordable tax cuts that will widen further the existing budget gap.

So it’s clear that Whitman rejects tax increases as a solution. That leaves her with budget cuts and cuts alone as the solution to the state’s crisis.

Whitman’s has not specified exactly what she would cut, though she believes we should cut welfare to help fund higher ed. But there is no way she can offer a cuts-only budget without hammering hard schools, parks, libraries, health care services, and the other services the Courage Campaign ad defends.

Specifically, Whitman wants to fire 40,000 state workers, apparently out of the belief that higher unemployment is good for the state. The average base pay for California state employees in 2008 was $63,815. Multiply that by 40,000 and you get $2,552,600,000. Just $2.5 billion, which would leave Whitman with another whopping $17.5 billion left to cut out of the budget.

That’s about the total amount the state spends on higher education and on prisons. Medi-Cal, IHSS, Cal-WORKS, and other important human services take up billions themselves. If Whitman wants to close the budget deficit with no new taxes – and even wants new tax cuts – she’s going to have to make massive cuts to the kinds of services we featured in our ad.

In short, she’s going to hang “closed” signs on public services and buildings and parks across California.

We expect Whitman to respond to this ad by saying she’s not actually proposing to cut schools, parks, libraries, health services, etc, as she claimed in response to the recent CTA ad. As I just demonstrated above, such a response is simply not credible given the size of the deficits California faces, and given her own refusal to countenance new revenues.

This is just the start of the Courage Campaign’s efforts to hold Meg Whitman accountable. Her bad math and flawed budgeting stands completely opposed to the priorities of the people of California. With your help, we’re going to show that to the people of this state. Click here to get “Meg’s California” on the air.