"We have to all share the burden"
This was the frequent mantra of Arnold Schwarzenegger during the budget crisis, as he set out to fill the shortfall with a combination of taxes and cuts so that everyone has to sacrifice. We've already seen how the tax increases were tilted toward the poor and the middle class, with more of the burden falling on them. Now Michael Rothfield at the LA Times has discovered that the sacrifice has not extended to Arnold's cabinet officials:
John Cruz, the appointments secretary for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, lives hundreds of miles from the state Capitol, where his staff scrutinizes candidates for California's many boards and commissions.
When Cruz works there, he goes by plane. He has charged taxpayers for his flights and for hotel bills of up to $382 a night on regular trips between his Orange County home and Sacramento, records show.
Carrie Lopez, director of the Department of Consumer Affairs, charged taxpayers to fly from Sacramento, where she works, to Los Angeles, where she lives, to attend a Justin Timberlake concert with her daughter. She listed the trip on her expense report as a meeting with the energy company that paid for the concert tickets. Lopez also billed the state for meals on days she received those meals for free from corporations, according to state records.
Rosario Marin, head of the State and Consumer Services Agency, blamed a miscommunication for her failure to repay $582 the state spent to fly her to Washington in July to speak at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, an appearance for which she received $1,000. She reimbursed the state for the airfare after The Times inquired about the trip last month.
Over the last two years, as California has slashed services and scrambled to pay bills, top administration officials have made free use of government expense accounts with little oversight and, in some cases, no documentation, The Times has found.
Together, they have spent tens of thousands of dollars on state-funded trips between Sacramento and the areas where they live, justifying the travel as necessary for state business. Some built weekend trips around one short meeting, and some charged the state to attend events with no apparent connection to their jobs.
This is the kind of expense-report diving that local news outlets often use as a stand-in for real accountability while right-wing frames on substantive issues are preserved. However, it remains laughable for the Governor to try and act as an independent voice railing against corruption in Sacramento when his staff is so enmeshed in it. In one example in the article, Carrie Lopez, who mind you is the director of the department of Consumer Affairs, listed a $51 lunch from Bank of America as a gift on the same day she collected a per diem for lunch.
The double dipping and runaway expense accounts point to a lack of oversight more than anything, and on this point I'd say the fish rots from the head down. Anyone who has lived in Brentwood or anywhere on the Westside knows that Arnold Schwarzenegger has a sense of entitlement to the point that he expects free services as a result of his exalted status. Ask any merchant who has interacted with him. And yet this is the guy who thinks he can have an ounce of credibility criticizing the salary or benefits of any legislator in Sacramento, or any state employee for that matter. How much of this money could have gone into avoiding furloughs?
It's a scandal, but not a surprising one. Arnold and his staff feel they deserve the best. They must feel that the people of California deserve something less.