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Missing the Point

Gov. George Deukmejian misses the point when he laments voter approval of initiative measures restoring the state worker-safety program, raising the cigarette tax and guaranteeing a specific level of state spending for schools. “And pretty soon,” he said, “maybe we won’t need to have a Legislature and a governor anymore and (we can) just do all this by special-interest propositions.”

But the reason all those propositions have been getting onto the ballot is that California has not had a governor and a Legislature--at least a governor and a Legislature responsive to public needs, a Legislature with the ability to cut through special-interest influence, and a governor willing to consider any view other than his own.

The only reason the worker-safety measure was on the ballot was that the governor misread the popularity of an effective California program and axed it. Now he says that when anyone asks him for money for some worthy state project he will have to say that it has all been spent on the California Occupational Safety and Health program. OSHA costs all of $9 million out of a state budget that will be around $50 billion in the coming year.

As for the school proposal, the governor said that it will just encourage other special interests to find their own way around the Gann spending limits, approved by voters in 1979. It probably will. But the reason is that the Gann limits, as written, are unrealistic and fail to escalate in proportion to California’s growth and the corresponding growth in demand for services.

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The voters may have been confused by a welter of insurance initiatives, but OSHA and other successful ballot issues were simple and easy to understand. The message is that there is a need for state programs. The public is willing to pay. As the world’s sixth-largest economic power, California can afford to do better.

The election does provide fresh hope for leadership from the Legislature. An enhanced Democratic majority should allow Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) to lead without spending his time fending off repeated attempts to overthrow him. Brown should move quickly to regain some credibility for the Legislature by instituting promised reforms and then get on with the problems facing California. President pro tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) has solidified his position as an adept leader of a Senate of talent and diversity.

The governor contends that the election results demonstrate that Californians generally are pleased with “the conditions in our state.” How then to account for election after election with so many ballot measures seeking change that had been thwarted by the Legislature and the governor?

Progressive Republicans in the Legislature should join Brown and Roberti in forging a consensus for the future of California. They should begin by cleaning up the remnants of the insurance mess and giving California a decent transportation system again. Then they should rescue California from fiscal impotence with a plan to eliminate or relax the Gann limits that are dooming the state to mediocrity.

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