Panel Restores Funds for Women’s Agency
Democratic budget negotiators reached an apparent compromise Tuesday on funding for the state Commission on the Status of Women, agreeing to restore some funds to the troubled agency, including money to pay the embattled executive director.
The tentative compromise, initiated by Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), would provide the commission with a $460,000 budget for the 1985-86 fiscal year and restore many of the commission staff positions cut by the Assembly.
It came during the second day of budget deliberations by a six-member Senate-Assembly conference committee. The Democrat-dominated committee is trying to trim a $35-billion-plus budget and bring it within a range that Republican Gov. George Deukmejian will accept.
The governor is threatening to veto hundreds of millions in spending proposals if the legislative conferees do not substantially reduce the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. After the first full day of discussions Monday, the negotiators appeared to be going backward, adding $2.2 million in spending instead of cutting back.
Money for the Commission on the Status of Women is one of the smallest spending items before the committee, but it has generated intense political interest. In a role reversal, Democrats, traditional supporters of the commission, want to slash the agency’s budget, and Republicans, who just a few years ago wanted to abolish the commission, are fighting for an increase.
The difference, Republicans say, is that Deukmejian is now in a position to put the GOP in control of the 17-member commission through his appointments.
The proposed compromise is more than twice the amount budgeted for the commission by the Assembly, but it still represents a significant cut from the nearly $700,000 recommended by Deukmejian. All four Democrats on the conference committee indicated support for the compromise but left the item open pending further negotiations with Republicans.
The compromise came when Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) amended Watson’s proposal to provide funds to retain the job of executive director, now held by Margaret Almada, a Republican whom Democrats have been criticizing, and to provide enough money for the commission to meet four times a year. Watson’s original proposal had not included pay for the executive director and would have authorized only one meeting a year.
Supporting the compromise was Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), author of the original Assembly proposal to gut the commission’s budget.
Waters has said the commission is wracked by internal discord and is not fulfilling its mandate of being an effective voice for issues of concern to women.
She has contended that the commission is able to accomplish little and that fighting between Republican and Democratic commissioners has reached the point where “depending on which side has the votes, the other side leaves the room.”
Assemblywoman Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley), a member of the commission, said Republicans still want full funding for the commission.
She said the Democratic proposal, even though it restores some of the budget cuts, does not provide enough money for the commission to do its job.
Deukmejian, during a news conference Tuesday, said budget negotiators should “not allow some rather petty game playing to reduce the amount of the appropriation for that commission, which is and has been carrying out some very excellent work.”