The consensus in many corners is that Gov. Schwarzeneg-ger has been a failure. I don't know about that. For one thing, that characteriza- tion lets the Democratic-controlled Legislature off the hook. For another, when the governor finds a cause he believes in, he still shows plenty of fight. Schwarzenegger got in his share of licks recently when he had the chance to defend illegal immigrants by dispelling popular myths about how they're responsible for the state's $24.3 billion budget deficit.
The governor challenged head-on the assumption that it was illegal immigrants who pushed the state into an ocean of red ink, pointing out that the cost to provide services to that population -- estimated at about $5 billion per year -- was a "small percentage" of the spending. This was something that needed to be addressed, he said, but it wasn't entirely responsible for the state's financial woes.
Schwarzenegger supports comprehensive immigration reform, blending stricter border enforcement, guest workers, and a path to earned legalization for the undocumented. And, in the past, he has been vocal in urging Americans to direct their anger and frustration at the broken immigration system and not at the immigrants themselves.
Now he is speaking out against those who blame illegal immigrants for all of society's ills -- and just as quickly excuse the rest of us of any responsibility.
"Our budget is out of whack because we have self-inflicted wounds that the Legislature and this state has never really sat down and had the will to go and make the necessary changes that have to be made."
One of the most costly self-inflicted wounds is the staggering payroll for state workers, including teachers, complete with what Schwarzenegger aptly described as "unbelievable benefits that cost the state an enormous amount of money."
Schwarzenegger went further and praised the contribution they make to the California economy. In fact, Schwarzenegger said that he is "happy that they can get the services" because if he were in another country and needed emergency medical care, he wouldn't want authorities there to refuse treatment until they verified his legal status.
It was remarkable to hear Schwarzenegger lay it out they way he did. Less remarkable is that it made so many Californians uncomfortable. They live in a beautiful and vibrant state, but many of them also live in a state of denial.
They don't think about all the restaurants, hotels, farms, construction firms, landscape companies and homebuilders that depend on illegal immigrant labor because many Californians -- even in an economic recession -- won't take the sorts of menial jobs their grandparents did. They don't think about the fact that when those businesses do well and pay more in taxes, the entire state economy does well.
And, most of all, they don't think about the fact that, for all illegal immigrants consume in services, they also pay taxes -- sales, property, even sometimes income taxes with the aid of a U.S. government-issued individual taxpayer identification number.
THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE