One week after the election, California officials are preparing a tough lobbying campaign to win new friends in George Bush’s Administration and to protect a multitude of local programs and state industries against threatened budgetary cutbacks.
Today, Gov. George Deukmejian will meet with Craig Fuller, co-director of Bush’s transition team, to discuss a long list of California priorities. In an interview Tuesday, Deukmejian said he will also recommend the names of prominent state residents who might be tapped to serve in the new Administration.
As California gears up to deal with the next President, it has no shortage of concerns, ranging from clean air and affordable housing to defense industries and foreign trade. But it is not clear how these issues will fare under Bush, who has yet to make appointments to most top federal posts or to chart a course on reducing the budget deficit.
There is little doubt, however, that an expected $30-billion cut in the federal deficit next year could force reductions in several Southern California projects, including the Metro Rail program in Los Angeles, the Santa Ana River Flood Control Program in Orange County and efforts to protect the San Diego County water system from Tijuana sewage.
Meanwhile, environmental battles from the last session of Congress are likely to flare up again, including controversies over oil drilling off the California coast and an effort to create national parks out of vast desert land in Southern California.
“Tell me who the cast of characters are in the new Bush Administration, tell me how we wind up cutting the deficit, and only then can I tell you how the state will fare in the next four years,” said Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Merced), the House majority whip.
Deukmejian sounded more upbeat, predicting that the Bush Administration would continue the basic economic policies of the Reagan Administration, which he said could benefit California. On the first day of a two-day trip to Washington, he also discounted press reports that he may be appointed by Bush to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, should a vacancy occur.
“That’s a lot of free-lance speculation. There’s obviously been no discussion,” he said. “I’m not interested really in anything in Washington. I’m happy where I am.”
Judging by the deficit cutbacks called for under the Gramm-Rudman law this year, Deukmejian will have his work cut out for him at home. California will begin to feel the effects of a major retrenchment in defense spending next year, according to several economists.
Under current plans, military programs are likely to be cut $15 billion next year. That could have a “significant impact” on the creation of jobs in Los Angeles, Orange County, Palmdale and other California communities that have benefited from the surge in defense spending during the 1980s, said Jerry Jordan, chief economist with First Interstate Bank.
By contrast, state officials sound more hopeful about trade issues. Last month, the Reagan Administration’s trade representative rebuffed demands by state rice growers that it initiate proceedings to retaliate against Japan for refusing to buy foreign-grown rice.
Policy Change Seen
As a candidate, however, Bush sided with the rice growers, and some economists believe that could signal a change in trade policy.
“I don’t see how the issue of Japanese rice policies can suddenly disappear, particularly after Bush came out the way he did in the campaign,” said Andy Durant, an investment specialist with the Government Research Corp. in Washington. “I think there’s a commitment to re-examine this issue.”
California also will be looking to Washington for new initiatives in housing, particularly programs to rehabilitate deteriorating housing stock and to spur construction of more affordable homes, said James F. Seeley, a lobbyist who represents Los Angeles.
The city hopes to secure federal funds to rehabilitate a multitude of earthquake-prone older buildings downtown, he said. But efforts to fund these programs, as well as more ambitious housing legislation, may be dashed by the budget deficit, Seeley noted.
The same is true for programs directed at gang warfare, AIDS, drug abuse and the homeless.
Budget cutbacks could also force a 5% to 7% reduction in funding for the Metro Rail program and delay construction, one consultant predicted. Elsewhere, deficit cutbacks threaten $9 million for the Santa Ana River Flood Control Project in Orange County, the nation’s most expensive flood control project. Cutbacks could also jeopardize $11 million for the San Diego sewage control program. Money for these programs has been authorized, but actual appropriations could fall short of the planned amounts.
As for the environment, Californians see some hopeful signs in Bush’s election. By his statements during the campaign, the President-elect has indicated that he might pursue solutions to some problems more actively than the current Administration.
By far the most important issue to environmental activists, industry and state officials is passage of a reauthorized federal Clean Air Act. The competing interests failed to agree on a compromise this year and Congress adjourned without taking action on the issue. As a result, the government has yet to adopt tough new standards to reduce air pollution in Los Angeles and cities across the nation.
“The Clean Air Act is obviously very critical to this state. We had nothing but stonewalling from the Reagan Administration and vague promises from Bush,” said Carl Pope, deputy conservation director of the Sierra Club.
Quick action on the Clean Air Act also was urged by the oil and gas industry, regional air pollution officials and the Deukmejian Administration, which are all eager to learn what the new standards will be.
Another key issue is oil and gas development off the California coast. During the campaign, Bush pledged to delay new oil and gas drilling pending further review, but he endorsed similar drilling in federal waters off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana.
How he deals with the issue in California will be closely watched by oil interests, who want to proceed with exploration, and by a coalition of commercial fishermen and environmentalists who oppose such action. The Deukmejian Administration has opposed blanket moratoriums, but insisted on a number of environmental safeguards.
Another battle is expected over a bill by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) that would establish three national parks in the deserts east of Los Angeles. Environmental activists believe that the Bush Administration’s position will be influenced in large part by Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.). In the last session of Congress, Wilson opposed Cranston’s legislation.