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Light in Sacramento’s Tunnel?

Gov. George Deukmejian has evidently seen the state’s fiscal future and decided that it may not work. California government cannot provide the services that its people need and still stay within the spending limits imposed in 1979. It will take leadership and straight talk to persuade voters to abandon those limits. Deukmejian now hints that he may do his share--a welcome sign.

The governor, who is working on next year’s budget, was in Los Angeles on Thursday for a meeting on prison costs. He told reporters that he was having trouble working around Propositions 98 and 99, which voters approved last month. They “blew large holes” in the spending limit, he said.

Proposition 98 guarantees public schools and community colleges 39% of state revenues and a portion of any surplus. Deukmejian opposed the measure because it reduces the state’s ability to pay for other services like higher education, health care and prisons. He also opposed Proposition 99, which raises tobacco taxes to finance health programs, and Deukmejian has for years resisted tax increases.

In both cases the voters, when asked whether they wanted to spend more money for specific programs, were saying yes . What’s needed now is a full-fledged bipartisan campaign to persuade the voters to say no to the existing limits and to reassure them that state government would spend the money wisely. No one could do that better than a governor who has established a record for frugality.

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“I said from the very beginning that we would try to make the Gann spending limit work,” Deukmejian said. "(I said) that if we found that it was no longer workable, then we would consider perhaps offering some suggested changes or even proposing to completely eliminate (the limit).”

It is uncertain whether the governor still means today what he said on Thursday. But there can be no question that if he decides that his stewardship of the state is in jeopardy because of an artificial spending limit, he should put his considerable influence into changing those restraints. There is also no question that the climate for doing the people’s business in Sacramento would be greatly improved if the governor and legislative leaders worked together on this issue.


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