California Gets Real, Almost

Arnold Schwarzenegger likes using movie metaphors to describe his work as California's governor. Last week, he compared his long-term plans for the state to a James Cameron film script. Like Mr. Cameron's "Terminator" series, California will also have a "great ending," the Republican governor promised.

In some respects, real life is already imitating cinematic life for the governor. Since taking over as the state's leading man six months ago, the "Governator" is proving just as popular as the Terminator, enjoying job-approval ratings of 64 percent.

And why wouldn't a state that's been pummeled by the dotcom bust, an energy crisis, and a debilitating government deficit warm to an optimist who is proving as pragmatic as he is positive?

An example of that pragmatism is Mr. Schwarzenegger's $100 billion budget released last week and meant to service a state whose economic output is comparable to that of France.

Unlike most past budgets, which bogged down in the state Legislature, this one has a good chance of getting through on time - and without raising taxes, as Schwarzenegger promised.

That's because he did his advance work. He went directly to the groups likely to fight budget cuts - teachers unions, public universities, and leaders of local government - and cut a deal with them. It will be hard for the Democratic Legislature to argue against the governor if the pressure groups have already agreed.

Other examples illustrate the governor's problem-solving ethos. Over the winter, he built bipartisan backing to help cover the deficit with a $15 billion bond, which voters approved via referendum. And last month, he won legislative support to reform the state workers' compensation system, the most costly in the nation.

"Everything's possible," he enthused after the reforms passed.

Undoubtedly, the governor's upbeat spirit, his (mostly) bipartisan approach, his determination, and frankly, his celebrity status, have contributed to a successful start.

But the script has a central flaw: With both the bond measure and the proposed budget, the governor is putting off the hard work to the future. Yes, he's buying time to work on the really big issues, and he's returning confidence to Californians. But can he really reform spending, for instance, with side deals that accept painful cuts now on the promise that the state will restore funds later?

Health and welfare programs are crying out for reform, as are duplicate and overlapping governmental functions. Roads, water, and education also need serious attention. The governor now has the necessary momentum - and credibility - to tackle these problems. He should begin posthaste.

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