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Agence France Presse
Feb 22, 2004 - 01:00 AM

by PAUL HANDLEY

"Governator" Schwarzenegger passes 100 days

SAN FRANCISCO - One hundred days after becoming governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger still exudes the powerful confidence and the rock-hard physique that made him an action movie star.

But three months after swapping Hollywood for politics, he is finding running the most-populous US state a bit like his "Terminator" movie role: his enemy is brutal and evanescent, and progress is nothing but elusive.

Schwarzenegger took office in November after riding a wave of popular discontent to win October elections on promises of cleaning up government and overcomong a massive budget deficit that has given California the United States' worst credit rating.

Campaigning against his predecessor Gray Davis' allegedly spendthrift habits, Schwarzenegger pledged to balance the budget, reform government and kickstart the sagging state economy.

"For the people to win, politics as usual must lose," became his mantra.

But the former body-building champion approaches the 100th day of his tenure on Tuesday, he still has much to do an several key tests to pass before he can make good on his promises.

By all accounts, his Hollywood magnetism continues to charm Sacramento, the stodgy state capital, persuading Democratic legislators to back his Republican programs.

And, he has surpised many by revealing admirable political talent during a tough honeymoon period, said Ray Sotero, a Democratic aide in the capital. "He's pretty incredible. He doesn't miss much," he said.

Moreover, the actor and his Kennedy-clan heiress wife Maria Shriver have injected some Hollywood pizzazz into life in the capital.

The pair are frequently seen about town in tony restaurants as tourists flock to have their pictures taken in front of his office door, where a large new sign proclaims: "Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger."

After outlining a list of projected accomplishments for his first 100 days in office, he has managed to follow through with some, but the list of concrete achievements is not long.

He repealed an unpopular vehicle tax, revoked a bill which would give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, imposed a spending freeze and also submitted a balanced budget for the 2004-2005 fiscal year which does not raise taxes, another promise.

However, to do so, and to fill an estimated 30-billion-dollar budget shortfall over two years, Schwarzenegger announced only after being elected that he wanted the state borrow 15 billion dollars in a bond issue.

California voters, who have to approve the bond in a crucial March 2 referendum, clearly are not comfortable with the idea of the state going further into debt, leaving the "Govern-ator" facing his biggest test yet.

A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California showed only 38 percent of voters support the measure, and 41 percent oppose it.

Defeat of the initiative next week, most observers say, would be disastrous for the governor and he is spending heavily on television and radio advertising to avert the threat.

But the way he is paying for his media blitz has drawn more attention to his other election promise, to reform campaign financing and rid Sacramento of money politics once and for all.

After accusing his predecessor of spending too much time as governor raising political funds, Schwarzenegger himself has pulled in more than 120,000 dollars a day since his inauguration, critics note.

Much of the money has come from wealthy individuals and corporations with vested interests in the governor's policies.

"This really outpaces Gray Davis," said Carmen Balber of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which operates the ArnoldWatch website.

"He has gone hat in hand to every major corporate and lobbying interest in Sacramento," Balber said.

Asked about the fund-raiser this week, Schwarzenegger argued that raising the funds was justifiable because it is "the way the system works."

But even if he gets his bond measure passed, economists say he still has more budget hurdles ahead.

Also during the week, non-partisan Sacramento budget analyst Elizabeth Hill said the governor's projections were over-optimistic and that he would likely face a five billion dollar hole in the 2005-2006 budget.

Hill's projections lead many to believe the governor will have no choice but to raise taxes, something he foreswore repeatedly during his campaign. Some political observers think this would put an end to Schwarzenegger's political honeymoon.

One thing is for certain, then: just like in his movies, with Governor Schwarzenegger there is still a lot of action to come.




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