State Budget Is Well Received in County, Particularly at UCI

Times Staff Writer

The $36.7-billion budget proposal unveiled Friday by Gov. George Deukmejian was generally well received in Orange County, but the big winners appeared to be the county's two major universities, which would get a total of $48.6 million for improvements.

County officials did express some disappointment on the spending formula for mental health programs.

The governor made education the highest spending priority in his budget, which includes salary increases and program expansions at all educational levels.

While there was little or no money for new building programs at Orange County community colleges, the governor's spending plan includes $14.7 million for improvements at Cal State Fullerton.

On-Campus Housing Funds

The money would pay for Cal State's first on-campus housing and a 54,000-square-foot addition to the Engineering Building.

UC Irvine did even better, with $33.9 million for improvements that includes $2.2 million to equip an engineering laboratory, $27.5 million to plan and construct a new facility for the School of Physical Sciences and $1.2 million for a 126,000-square-foot expansion of the School of Biological Sciences.

"It's very gratifying and it's encouraging . . .," said UCI Chancellor Jack W. Peltason. "We'd been gambling on these buildings coming when we expanded our enrollment."

Although they had taken only a cursory glance at the document Friday, Orange County officials said they were pleased that the governor's no-new-tax budget contained $19.1 million for child welfare services and $125 million for improvements to local streets and roads.

Based on those spending levels, Orange County officials were anticipating generous increases in each of those areas.

But county officials said they were disappointed to learn that Deukmejian's $39 million in proposed spending for mental health, despite a 2% cost-of-living adjustment, did not recognize that Southern California counties such as Orange have experienced enormous growth in the past two decades and have been slighted by an outdated spending formula.

Last year, San Diego County sponsored an unsuccessful measure to obtain extra money for counties that had been shortchanged in the past on alcohol and drug abuse programs. Orange County is sponsoring a similar bill this year.

Richard Keefe, Orange County's Santa Ana-based legislative analyst, said that was his biggest disappointment in the budget proposal.

But he added: "Overall, we are pleased."

The governor's budget also includes $10.5 million to improve Amtrak rail service between Los Angeles and San Diego.

Because Deukmejian had hinted last year that he had some concerns about overall costs and wanted specifically to cut court costs, county officials said they were not surprised that the spending plan does not include money for shifting the operational costs of trial courts to the state.

Last year, Deukmejian signed a bill by Assemblyman Richard Robinson (D-Garden Grove) that would shift courts' operating costs from the county to the state. But money to implement that bill is not in this budget.

Orange County officials estimate that such a reform would save the county about $19 million the first year. The governor's decision to leave that money out of his budget, and the fact that the budget contains no money for unanticipated legislation, reduces the chances that the reform will happen this year.

In signing Robinson's bill, Deukmejian said it should be implemented only if court costs are reduced.

In the policy statement accompanying his budget, Deukmejian for the first time listed some of the cost-cutting reforms he wants.

They include smaller juries in civil cases, sending more cases to mandatory arbitration, reducing the number of trials for traffic offenses and allowing attorneys fewer automatic challenges to jurors in both criminal and civil cases.

The governor's budget targets no new money to develop the 11,000 acres of parkland the state started buying in 1981. Orange County Supervisor Bruce Nestande said he will try to persuade Orange County legislators to add at least a nominal amount of money to the budget for development of Chino Hills State Park.

"They (legislators)) will have six months of hearings now . . . and I will certainly support putting some money in the budget . . . so people in that part of the county will know the state is serious about a park," Nestande said.

Fears that the site is being considered for an international airport will go away only when park development begins, Nestande said, pointing out that the state park in Chino Hills was one of his campaign platforms when he first ran for the Legislature in 1974.

"Overall, Orange County made out fine in the budget as far as the county government goes," Nestande said.

Times staff writer Bill Billiter contributed to this story.

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