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Genest officially appointed finance director

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has promoted Mike Genest to the job that some in the Capitol believe he’s already done for two years.

The Republican governor appointed Genest director of the Department of Finance, one of the most powerful positions in state government. The finance director writes the governor’s annual budgets, presents and explains the spending plan to the Legislature and enforces spending rules throughout the state bureaucracy.

Genest, a Republican, was the deputy chief of the department from November 2003 to February 2005, then served as undersecretary for the Health and Human Services Agency. He replaces long-time Sacramento figure Tom Campbell, who will return to his post as dean of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, according to the release.

Genest’s appointment reflected Schwarzenegger’s penchant for picking high officials from different political parties. The day before the governor named Susan Kennedy, a Democrat, as his new chief of staff. Typically, the finance director and chief of staff are both members of the governor’s party.

Schwarzenegger praised Genest’s work in helping balance the state’s budget without raising taxes. Indeed, during his years in Sacramento, Genest has earned high marks from people of different political stripes for his deep knowledge of budget matters.

“In terms of the nuts and bolts of the budget, Mike was known for his familiarity with the details,” said Brad Williams, director of the economic, tax and fiscal forecast with the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

It was this knowledge–and Genest’s boss’s alleged lack of it–that led to a sharp comment two years ago in a Senate budget hearing. Then-finance director Donna Arduin was absent from the session when Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana, said, “I think personally, Mike, that you are the director of finance, and she is more of a figurehead.”

Dunn’s press secretary, Jim Evans, said Dunn’s comments have been blown out of proportion and followed several incidents in which Arduin had shown a lack of knowledge of California budget matters. In an earlier Assembly budget hearing, Evans said, Arduin was not able to answer a fairly straightforward question about school bonds posed to her by Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles. Arduin resigned the following October.

“Senator Dunn was expressing the frustration of the Legislature with Donna Arduin, her lack of preparation and seeming disdain for the Legislature’s role in the budget process,” Evans said.

Former Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte took issue with this characterization, saying that Arduin had been subject to a good deal of uncivil posturing by legislative Democrats, including being forced to wait outside hearings for long periods.

However, he also praised Genest, saying his time working in the state’s Health and Welfare departments will serve him well.

“When you are talking about cutting programs, he knows the people who are impacted by the cuts,” Brulte said. “Mike understands the people part of the equation better than just about any budget person I’ve ever met.”

Genest still faces confirmation hearings with the Senate before he can assume the $131,412 a year job. The 58 year-old is known for being fairly conservative. However, one budget watcher who leans towards the other side of the political spectrum said that she was not worried.

“He brings a lot of experience to the table,” said Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project. “He will largely reflect the priorities of the governor.”

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