Governor, Honig Come to Terms on Education Budget

Times Staff Writer

For Gov. George Deukmejian, it was a feud that tarnished his image as a friend of public education. For state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig, it was a fight he could not win.

And so the two rivals, who battled over funds for public education during most of last year, have joined together to support a budget plan that helps them politically while at the same time benefits the schools.

On Thursday, Deukmejian proposed a budget for the next school year that will increase state spending on kindergarten through high school by nearly $1 billion. Honig praised Deukmejian's proposal, saying, "This budget gives education its fair share of the available money."

Lawmakers Pleased

A day earlier, Deukmejian announced in his State of the State address that he and the superintendent would jointly sponsor legislation designed to make school districts more accountable to the state. As he took the podium to deliver his address before both houses of the Legislature, the governor went out of his way to shake Honig's hand.

The reconciliation pleased lawmakers and members of the educational establishment who were concerned that another bruising battle between the two leaders could harm the state's schoolchildren by reducing the amount of money available for education.

"As we all saw in last year's battle on education, the ones that got hurt in the process were the kids," observed Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim), a member of the Senate Education Committee. "The good news is the patching up of those differences is a win for the kids."

The political atmosphere is quite different from a year ago. When Deukmejian proposed his state budget last year, Honig immediately charged it was a "disaster" for kindergarten through 12th grade because it provided an increase too small even to keep pace with growing enrollment. The superintendent contended that the budget would bring a halt to the "reform" movement designed to improve the quality of education in California.

Deukmejian countered by calling Honig a "demagogue" and a "snake oil salesman." Deukmejian suggested that Honig had ambitions to run against him for governor and he sharply reduced the budget of Honig's department.

In the end, the public schools received their smallest budget increase during Deukmejian's first five years as governor: $316 million, compared to more than $1 billion in each of the previous years.

In September, after the dust had settled, Deukmejian and Honig had lunch together in an attempt to end their feud. They agreed to try to work together on the budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

'We've Recovered'

Although the governor's budget does not contain everything Honig would like, the schools chief nevertheless took a conciliatory approach, noting that the budget will not require school districts to cut back their programs again this year. More money may even become available in May, he said, when the proposed budget is revised.

"This is a good first step," Honig told reporters. "We've recovered from last year. We still have a tremendous amount of work to do."

While neither Honig nor Deukmejian's staff would concede that the feud was politically harmful to them, other politicians in Sacramento said they believed that it had taken a toll on both officials. "It was a losing proposition for both in terms of the public in California," Senate Republican Leader Ken Maddy of Fresno said. "I don't think the public likes to see public officials constantly in these battles. Both sides lost."

Maddy added: "Supt. Honig learned with this governor it's a lot better to do things on a one-to-one basis. A better way to work with this governor is to speak to him in advance and not try to do it through the media."

Seymour said: "In my opinion, Honig was suffering (politically) more than Deukmejian, although they were both suffering to a certain extent. Obviously, the public looks and says, 'Why can't our two leaders interested in education work more closely together, or at least in a more acceptable fashion?' "

Deukmejian, according to some Republicans, resented the criticism from Honig that he had not given enough money to education--particularly when he believed that the schools had fared well under his Administration.

"Education has always been the No. 1 spending priority," Deukmejian press secretary Kevin Brett said. "The governor has been the most generous governor to education in modern history."

But Honig, while more subdued in his rhetoric Thursday than in the past, said he was uncertain whether his criticism of Deukmejian had cost the schools money or made the governor wary of cutting education funding a second time.

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