Did Arnold turn over a new leaf?

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is trying hard to convince voters he’s turned over a new, centrist leaf since his corporate-inspired, anti-labor state makeover proposals went down to defeat last November.

In his Jan. 5 State of the State message, Schwarzenegger apologized for the unpopular special election (though not for his efforts to muzzle public workers’ unions or give himself unilateral budget-cutting powers), and said he now wants to work together with the majority-Democrat state Legislature.

“I didn’t hear the majority of Californians when they were telling me they didn’t like the special election,” he told the assembled legislators. “I have absorbed my defeat and I have learned my lesson.”

Schwarzenegger is up for re-election this fall. In what many commentators called his first re-election campaign speech, Schwarzenegger outlined a gigantic 10-year, $222 billion proposal to rebuild the state’s infrastructure, including highways and carpool lanes, commuter rail lines, and new schools, courts and prisons. Funding would come from nearly $70 billion in bonds, plus federal funds, school and county budgets, new fees and tolls, and private investment — but not from new taxes, he said.

The governor pledged “immediate repayment of the entire $1.67 billion in Prop. 98 money,” voter-approved education funding which he held back in 2004. He said those funds, together with an automatic budget increase of $2.3 billion, would constitute “the largest increase in funding in education’s history.” He also pledged to raise the minimum wage by $1 per hour — a measure he has twice vetoed — and said he would eliminate a university tuition increase this fall and ask the federal government to allow “safe import” of prescription drugs.

But California Federation of Teachers spokesman Fred Glass pointed out that Schwarzenegger’s education proposals would still fall significantly short of full funding for education in a state which is near the bottom in that category nationwide. He said the governor’s proposals are “perhaps a down payment but don’t satisfy the requirements of Prop. 98 or the deal that was made last year.”

He also warned that Schwarzenegger’s plans can’t be carried out without new taxes. “He’s proposing to saddle our children with long-term debt,” Glass said. “It would be far more appropriate to pay for them by taxing the big corporations and the rich.”

Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Association, also cited the dangers of long-term indebtedness, and the need for new taxes. He added, “Instead of investing in prisons and other ‘public safety’ measures, we need preventive and ‘people development’ programs.” Lopez said MAPA is working on two possible ballot measures for a minimum wage hike — both indexed to the cost of living and both drawing majority support in polls.

“We’re here to continue to hold the governor’s feet to the fire,” said Robin Swanson, spokeswoman for the Alliance for a Better California, the public worker-led coalition that played a decisive role in the campaign that defeated all of Schwarzenegger’s ballot measures. While the state certainly needs new infrastructure and schools, she said, “We’ll be surprised if he can carry out all the proposals without raising new taxes. Schwarzenegger tends to promise big and produce short.”

In a Jan. 4 statement, California Labor Federation head Art Pulaski called Schwarzenegger’s minimum wage proposal “two years late and a dollar short.” He said that indexing, which the governor’s proposal fails to do, “is the only way to help the minimum wage catch up in future years.”

Pulaski cited California Budget Project figures showing the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage is over one-third less than in 1968, and has dropped over 9 percent since Schwarzenegger was elected in 2003. “A stable solution must take the minimum wage out of politics and into reality,” he added.