Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told POLITICO on Tuesday it was “shortsighted” for California leaders to abandon a $200 million emergency preparedness effort he initiated in 2006 to deal with a future pandemic, as the state now scrambles to prepare for a surge in coronavirus cases, Politico reported.
When the state budget swelled 14 years ago, Schwarzenegger launched a surge capacity stockpile that included mobile hospitals and medical gear intended to prepare California for a situation like it is facing today.
With the state facing a $26 billion deficit in 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers withdrew funding to maintain the supplies, Politico adds.
As public servants, “our ultimate responsibility is not just to make a budget balance, but to save lives,’’ Schwarzenegger responded for the first time Tuesday in a phone interview. He said that when the bird flu emerged in 2006, he was deeply concerned about having sufficient supplies in California to handle potential disasters like infectious disease outbreaks and major earthquakes that could kill hundreds of thousands.
“I thought we have to be prepared — because we are the fifth largest economy in the world,” he said.
The former governor on Tuesday never specifically mentioned or criticized Brown, his successor.
“Yes, there was a budget crunch … it’s easy for them to just look at the numbers, but not really to visualize disaster,” Schwarzenegger said of the 2011 cuts, which eviscerated the emergency medical program. “They obviously made their judgments to take those expenditures out … and to worry about a few million dollars.”
“Would I have done it? No,” Schwarzenegger said. “But I understand that every governor and every administration looks at those things differently.”
Schwarzenegger spoke to POLITICO after a trip to Los Angeles hospitals Tuesday, where he personally delivered a cargo of 50,000 masks to doctors on the front lines of the pandemic — a move to underscore his support of the Frontline Responders Fund.
The former governor has donated $1 million to the GoFundMe effort to raise money for desperately needed equipment during the Covid-19 crisis. The cause, which has raised $5 million to date, has also been backed by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, angel investor Ron Conway and Hollywood luminaries like Edward Norton.