Arnold Schwarzenegger

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The summer's been a bummer for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Although he still likes to say being governor of California is the best job he's ever had, Schwarzenegger has faced near-constant criticism from all sides in the state's drawn-out fiscal crisis.

It's the same type of crisis he promised to lead the state out of when he jumped from Hollywood into politics five years ago, replacing former Gov. Gray Davis and promising to "blow up the boxes" of state government.

Forget the GOP national stage for the moment: Schwarzenegger put off any plans to appear on the campaign trail with John McCain, a good friend, and gave up a prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention a week ago.

And Schwarzenegger's hopes of putting a ballot measure before voters in November to shore up the state's water supply are all but doomed, just like last year's vision for sweeping health care reform.

After saying repeatedly he wouldn't raise taxes, Schwarzenegger proposed a 1-cent increase in the state sales tax for three years to help close the state's $15.2 billion budget deficit. The governor said he ultimately would cut the tax rate below its current level, but his proposal prompted a furious backlash from lawmakers in his own party and a rebuke from former Gov. Pete Wilson, a fellow Republican who has been one of Schwarzenegger's political confidantes.

Last week, Schwarzenegger's short but lively political career came full circle when the state prison guards union took the formal steps to begin a recall campaign against him, citing "catastrophic leadership failings and inept management."

The union's attempt is almost entirely one of self-interest — its leadership is upset that Schwarzenegger has refused to give its members a huge raise, as Davis did — and its campaign will be a long-shot.

Yet the start of the recall attempt was an unwelcome reminder that Schwarzenegger has failed to accomplish his main objective: ending the state's seemingly endless budget crisis.

Schwarzenegger's frustration has bubbled over at times. Last week, he became agitated as he lamented the perennial gridlock — chastising lawmakers by saying they should give up their vacations and per diems until they pass a budget.

"Here we are again, 2 1/2 months late, and the legislators are arguing and fighting," he told reporters. "And I say to them, 'Get out of your ideological corners and go and make decisions not based on ideology, not based on what is best for your party, but make decisions (based on) what is best for the people of California."'

The dark mood in Sacramento matches that throughout the state, which has been pummeled by the housing and mortgage crises and has its highest unemployment rate in 12 years. Schwarzenegger's approval rating has dropped to 40 percent, down from 60 percent last December.

Attacks on members of his own party haven't helped.

He recently criticized Republican lawmakers for proposing a budget that used borrowing as a way to address the deficit: "They call themselves fiscally conservative and fiscally responsible. I don't call it that.... This is just a quick fix."

Veteran Republican Sen. Dave Cox fired off a rare news release attacking the governor's comments, noting that Schwarzenegger promised to reform state government during the 2003 recall election.

"The reality is, that didn't get done," Cox told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday. "It's my personal belief that the governor should have met numerous times with individuals as well as the Assembly and Senate caucuses to talk about where he was going."

While Schwarzenegger has held talks with legislative leaders for weeks, he finally started meeting with the full Republican delegations this week.

Before a meeting with Assembly Republicans, Minority Leader Mike Villines said sarcastically that many of his caucus members were looking forward to meeting Schwarzenegger "for the first time." Several wore name tags.

The governor — a centrist who has never warmed to the GOP's hard-core faithful — may have made things worse in comments to the German magazine Der Spiegel. He said he has "almost no contact" with California's Republican leaders "because they're just so out there."

Even if this summer's record-length budget stalemate is a symptom of California's partisan gridlock, Schwarzenegger bears some of the blame, said Leon Panetta, a former Democratic congressman and chief of staff in the Clinton administration.

Panetta is heading a bipartisan group studying California government.

With the July 1 start of the fiscal year long since passed, it's time for Schwarzenegger to knock heads and come up with a budget deal, Panetta said.

"I think the governor has to put them in a room, and he's got to basically keep them there until this damn thing is done," Panetta said. "He's tried sweet-talking, he's tried urging the press to focus on it, he's tried urging the public to do the same. He may ultimately have to act like a Terminator."

The governor's communications director, Matt David, said Schwarzenegger is unbowed by the criticism and low public approval ratings. And Schwarzenegger himself said he's not intimidated by the push for a recall.

"He is a public servant, not a party servant, and he will always do what is right for Californians," David said.