Deukmejian and Honig Meet but Fail to Agree

Times Staff Writer

Gov. George Deukmejian and state School Supt. Bill Honig met privately for nearly two hours Monday, but failed to resolve differences over the governor's proposed education budget.

"We had a long discussion about the relative points of view," the superintendent said after the meeting in Deukmejian's office. "I think we got each other's view across."

The meeting was the first face-to-face encounter by the two warring officeholders after weeks of long-distance, public potshots over whether Deukmejian's proposed $39-billion budget will adequately finance the state's public school system.

Honig's public battle with Deukmejian began last month when he called the governor's proposed budget "a disaster" for elementary and secondary schools. Honig contends that it represents a drop in education spending when adjusted for inflation. Deukmejian, however, maintains that his budget actually provides for a 4% increase in money for kindergarten through the 12th grade when both state and local funds are counted. The governor says this is the best he can do in a tough budget year and he has called Honig "a whiner," "demagogue" and "snake-oil salesman."

Meeting Called 'Worthwhile'

The Deukmejian-Honig meeting was described by the schools chief as "worthwhile" because it helped clear the air, even if it did nothing to bring about any conciliation.

Other participants characterized the session as a chilly airing of differences.

"Let's put it this way: They did not kiss and make up," one aide to Honig said.

Deukmejian and Honig both were joined at the meeting by their top aides. State Finance Director Jesse R. Huff, Deukmejian's top fiscal adviser, said the session was successful to the degree that "there is a greater understanding of the relative positions" between the two officeholders.

Huff said Honig told Deukmejian that money to fund education programs should come from cutting in half the governor's proposed $1-billion budget reserve. "It was good to hear at last where we were supposed to get the money, and that's been one of the key questions," Huff said. "The governor continues to believe that the reserve needs to be $1 billion."

Campaign for Money

Earlier, in a speech to community college officials, Honig vowed not to become intimidated by Deukmejian's attacks and urged the educators to "join forces" with him in campaigning for more money for schools.

"I think initially he tried to bluff us down. We're not going to bluff down," Honig told reporters after appearing at a conference sponsored by community college trustees.

During his speech, Honig said he had organized a political action committee--the California Movement for Educational Reform--to begin a statewide push for more school money and campaign for an initiative to overturn the state's constitutional spending limit.

Honig admonished the educators that "you are going to have to fight back and fight back politically."

Honig said he was lobbying for an additional $900 million in state support for the kindergarten-through-high-school system.

Asked later where the money would come from, Honig said part of it could come by taking $500 million from the governor's budget reserve. He also noted that when Deukmejian signed a major education financing bill in 1983, the governor approved a series of tax and fee increases that raised about $600 million annually for the school system. He said Deukmejian could do that again.

The school superintendent said his political committee already had "commitments" for $200,000 in contributions and that he was prepared to donate $50,000 from his own campaign treasury. Honig said community organizers already have been hired.

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