One-on-One Interview with Governor Schwarzenegger

During Gov.  Arnold Schwarzenegger's visit last week to our campus, he offered Santa Monica College student Hector Mejia the chance to interview him.

Many people see him as a state program eliminator, the "Villain of Sacramento," the budget-and-tax-system reformer, and the leader of California. Among the questions many Californians are currently asking are: What will lower-income families do without state-funded health care programs? Are there ways to manage program funding while simultaneously fixing the budget and tax systems? Is there a plan to deal with the unintended consequences of vital program cuts? How can college students survive the education cuts? And, will the governor support the equal marriage rights?

During what is quite possibly the toughest week of Gov. Schwarzenegger's career, he explains the current situation and answers these questions through an exclusive interview:

Hector: I'd like to begin by talking about many programs that face elimination. If the Healthy Families program gets cut, what are parents going to rely on to take care of their children?

Governor Schwarzenegger: I'm a big fan of the Healthy Family program. We expanded it … I was interested to insure all children and . . . we are trying to do health care reform in California where we insure all people and I think we have a good chance to do that this year because the Obama administration has shown an interest to do it at a national level. In the mean time, we just don't have the money . . . to pay for Healthy Families because of the drop in revenues. We have seen a drop in revenues of not only the $42 billion dollars that we originally thought we had, but we have an additional [$18 billion] dollars of drops... the only way we can really deal with that is by raising taxes . . . and we have to make the rest of it with cuts … because we, by law, have to pass a balanced budget.

So Healthy Families has been hit and so have many other programs . . . this was our proposal to the legislature. Of course everything will be then looked at by the legislature, the Democrats and the Republicans, and then they will have their own recommendations about this. But unless some one comes up with some ideas of creating revenues, I cannot imagine how we would change any of that because that's all the money we have. So it's painful to me and I'm sure painful to anyone that is involved in this situation but we have the biggest economic decline since the Great Depression . . . It's a terrible time and that's why a lot of people have to make big sacrifices.

Hector: Do you think it's possible to temporarily allow ourselves to go into further debt while we try to fix the dysfunctional tax system instead of cutting most of these programs?

Governor Schwarzenegger: The tax system and the reform of the tax system will come in beginning of July, so as soon as that comes in and . . . Let's assume the legislature will act on it very quickly. That tax system does not really produce any extra revenues, the tax system is revenue neutral. That means that the intention of reforming the tax system is to go and even-out the taxes so that we don't have all or fifty percent of the taxes come in from personal income and from capital gains because when there is an economic decline then those kind of revenues immediately disappear. Because the rich people that are paying for those taxes, their wealth goes down, their income goes down very quickly and therefore we lose all this huge amount of money. There is something terribly wrong with the tax system itself and that's why we have to straighten it out. But then it wouldn't . . . have an effect for another year or two. That's . . . the problem. So, immediately what we have to do is we have to live within our means.

Hector: Do you think there will be any secondary problems that will probably arise as a result of ending most of these programs?

Governor Schwarzenegger: I think that it could potentially cost the state more money down the line. It's like I always say with the after school programs that . . . I have passed . . . if we don't give our kids after school programs today, down the line, it will cost us for every dollar we save three dollars . . . because kids will commit . . . crimes in the afternoon and kids will get involved with teenage pregnancy and . . . the gangs are what cost the state more money. That's the same with health care, if we don't take care of our vulnerable citizens, the health problem will get worse and then later on will cost us more money. The same is with Healthy Families, the same is with if you don't take care of the women when they are pregnant . . . down the line it will cost us more money. So, we know that. I know it; I think the legislators know it. But the only thing is that we still don't have the money to pay for those programs.

Hector: Are there any programs thought of or being created right now to deal with these secondary problems that might arise, for example a hike in criminality or things of that sort?

Governor Schwarzenegger: No, I think that no one is thinking about it right now. I think everyone just about in every state is thinking about how do we make ends meet right now this year. I think that everyone is so focused on that and then the shock of what you have to do in order to balance the books, you know, and the kind of programs you have to cut. So people are paying, I think, and so it's our office of what we need to do and when you see the TV commercials out there that say- you know, the governor doesn't see the honorable citizens . . . they are totally wrong; I know exactly who this affects when you make those cuts. But the only thing is I have no choice because I cannot promise something to people when we don't have the money for it.

Hector: Many community colleges like Santa Monica College are obviously going to be facing many programs that are going to be cut. What suggestion do you have for students who will eventually going to be denied access to higher education as a result of these unfortunate cuts?

Governor Schwarzenegger: I am a big believer that where there's a will there's a way, and I think that everyone has to work together on this. For instance, when I went to community college at Santa Monica I paid out-of-state tuition. Simply because … I came from another country…I went also at the same time to UCLA . . . I worked as a bricklayer, and I worked enough so that I could afford the extra money that it cost for education because, for me, education was so important . . . I think a lot of students, if they have the will that they really want to go educate themselves [will] just go out and work part time and make up for the difference. Even though that's not my preference, but again I think it's just what we need to do in order to make ends meet. I think everyone also has access, not so much to four-year colleges, but in the community colleges because if someone cannot go to four-year college then I think they should have a place to go. And so the community colleges should always have room for them.

Hector: Something I'd like to point out is that even though you are a Republican politician you seem to base your decisions on what you think is best for the people rather than deciding on what your party platform dictates for you to do. For example, you have said that you believe marriage is between a man and a woman but you also said that you believe it's wrong to enforce your beliefs on other people's lives. Based on that perspective, do you think you will support the new ballot initiative that's coming up next year to allow same-sex marriage again in our state?

Governor Schwarzenegger: [A]s you know, I am sometimes at war with the Republican party, but as I always said I try to be a people's servant, a public servant, not a party servant. You have people within your own party [who] fight you and campaign stuff against you and all those things, but that's perfectly fine with me because that's the promise that I have made to the people. I think that the key thing is . . . no matter what the court decision was I think that the people will be back because that's what I would do. We have done this with our district reform. We went back five times and lost five times and the sixth time we won. And so. . . what my recommendation is … you always try to put the best foot forward in order to go and get the point across. So don't do something that gives the other side ammunition. Think about the cause, the bigger thing which is to create equality and to have . . . everyone to be able to be married.

Hector: Would you or would you not support the new ballot initiative for marriage equality?

Governor Schwarzenegger: I think it's for the people to decide, and I will make sure that I will get my message out there to let them know that I support the initiative … And so . . . you try to stay as neutral but still get the message out there that you are supporting it. Which is exactly what I did the last time.

When asked if he would come back as a guest professor at SMC, Gov. Schwarzenegger replied:

"[I] can do that even while I am governor. I can come in periodically and be a guest teacher, or guest speaker … I have gained a lot of wisdom and learned from the mistakes that I have made … I am more than happy to share all of that."