Governor’s Budget Would Kill Worker Safety Agency

Times Staff Writer

Gov. George Deukmejian, seeking to reduce state involvement in dozens of costly programs, Thursday proposed turning the state’s worker safety program over to the federal government and giving all responsibility for family planning programs to the counties.

Acting on his longtime rhetoric of limiting the scope of state government, Deukmejian called in his proposed 1987-88 budget for a policy of “disengagement” that would mean the transfer of $477 million to county governments along with authority over a variety of health programs, including family planning.

At the same time, the Republican governor called for abolition of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, the state agency that is responsible for protecting worker safety.


Elimination of Cal-OSHA, as it is known, would transfer responsibility for employee health and safety problems to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Although Cal-OSHA came under fire during Deukmejian’s first term for lack of vigorous enforcement, it is generally considered to be faster to respond to safety problems and to be tougher on violators than is the federal agency.

The proposed elimination of Cal-OSHA was immediately criticized by organized labor.

“This is an outrageous abdication of authority and responsibility by the Deukmejian Administration,” said John F. Henning, head of the California AFL-CIO.

“We would hope that the governor would reconsider this policy, which can only mean more deaths and more maiming of California workers--this because federal standards of job safety are much inferior to those of California,” Henning said.

However, Industrial Relations Director R. T. Rinaldi, who oversees Cal-OSHA, said the federal OSHA’s record in states where it is solely responsible for worker safety is just as good as Cal-OSHA’s.

“The intent is not to sacrifice employee safety,” he said. “It is our belief the feds would do as good a job.”


Even without the approval of the Democratic-controlled Legislature, Deukmejian has the power to eliminate funds for Cal-OSHA through use of his line-item budget veto, Rinaldi said. This could assure the agency’s demise after June 30.

Deukmejian’s proposals are certain to lead to major battles with the Legislature, particularly his plan to transfer authority over family planning and other health programs to local governments.

Health Care Shift

In addition to family planning, the governor’s proposal would give individual counties the responsibility for operating a variety of specific programs, including health care for farm workers, Indians, the aged and the genetically handicapped. Authority for environmental health programs, communicable diseases, well-baby clinics and dental health would also be turned over to the counties.

For many local officials, Deukmejian’s proposal is a welcome response to their plea that the state give power over local decisions to local officials.

But Deukmejian’s plan threatens to erode the power of Democratic state legislators over programs they contend should be administered uniformly throughout the state, not turned over to county supervisors who may or may not believe the programs are necessary. Even before details of Deukmejian’s plan were made public, Democratic leaders attacked the idea.

“It’s ludicrous,” Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) said at a breakfast interview with The Times’ Sacramento Bureau. “Can you imagine turning human service programs over to (conservative Los Angeles County Supervisors) Pete Schabarum and Deane Dana?”


Spending Limit

In the long run, the transfer of money to the counties could help the state avoid exceeding its constitutional limit on spending. Deukmejian’s proposed $39-billion budget is just $80 million below the limit.

Deukmejian’s plan calls for giving the counties an increased one-quarter-cent share of the state sales tax in the 1988-89 budget in place of the $477 million in the 1987-88 proposed budget. This would reduce the state’s spending by about $500 million in 1988-89, thereby reducing the chance of exceeding the spending limit.

Another element of Deukmejian’s proposed budget calls for the elimination of 29 state-funded programs that local governments are required to operate. An additional 15 required programs would be made optional. Altogether, this would save the state $86.5 million but could increase the cost for local governments that want to continue specific programs.

Programs that the governor would eliminate include a requirement that county clerks inform each voter whether his or her polling place is equipped for the handicapped; a requirement that school districts maintain immunization records on all students, and a requirement that school districts notify parents in writing if their child has been suspended.


A look at the state’s reserve funds set aside fro fiscal emergencies in millions of dollars:

Budgeted Actual 1983-84 $650 $428 1984-85 $951 $1,321 1985-86 $1,040 $436 1986-87 $1,160 $551 1987-88 $1,026 -- --