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Governor Seeks to Unclog Roads : State of State Message Also Calls for Reform of the Budget Process

Times Sacramento Bureau Chief

Talking tough but also urging cooperation, Gov. George Deukmejian invited legislators in his annual State of the State address on Monday to join him in creating new proposals to unclog California’s highways and to reform the state’s budget process.

Regarding highway tie-ups, Deukmejian said, “It is time to seriously consider restricting commercial truck traffic on our freeways during peak hours in urban areas.”

On the state budget, the Republican governor questioned “the continued usefulness” of a spending limit that voters amended into the California Constitution 10 years ago. He suggested the limit may no longer be workable because of subsequent voter actions, such as the approval last November of Proposition 98 guaranteeing public schools roughly 40% of the state’s general fund.

Deukmejian proposed one “long overdue” change in California’s political system: He advocated the election of the governor and the lieutenant governor as a “ticket,” similar to the way the President and vice president are elected. The governor and lieutenant governor now run separately, and in recent years the result often has been that the victors on Election Day are from different parties.

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Deukmejian did not mention it in his State of the State address, but if the lieutenant governor last year had been a Republican instead of a Democrat, the governor would have felt free to consider vice presidential overtures from George Bush. As it was, Deukmejian would have had to turn the governor’s office over to Democrat Leo T. McCarthy had he been elected vice president.

On another political matter, Deukmejian said he now is willing to join the chorus of legislators advocating an earlier presidential primary in order to restore California’s former clout in the nominating process. He also asked the lawmakers to join him in urging Washington to set a uniform poll closing time for the next presidential election, so that television networks will be unable to project the winner before Californians finish voting.

As governors traditionally have, Deukmejian delivered the State of the State address--his seventh--from the dais of the ornate, 19th-Century-style Assembly chamber. Jammed into the chamber for what always is one of the Capitol’s biggest events of the year were the legislators, other statewide officeholders, top Administration officials and invited guests.

No Third Term

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This was the first time Deukmejian has faced the Democratic-controlled Legislature as a political lame duck. The governor announced last Thursday that he will not run for a third term, pledging during his final two years in office to “personally reach out” to legislative leaders in hopes of developing some bipartisan solutions to pressing problems.

Reiterating his observation about this new “window of opportunity” for bipartisanship, Deukmejian said somewhat humorously: “And why not? With peace breaking out all over the world--with President Reagan talking to (Soviet President Mikhail S.) Gorbachev, with the U.S. talking to (PLO Chairman Yasser) Arafat, and with Speaker Willie Brown talking to the (Democratic rebel) ‘Gang of Five'--surely we ought to be able to work together peacefully and productively.”

He added, “I thought of suggesting a second honeymoon. But I can’t seem to recall the first.”

Deukmejian’s appeal for peaceful and productive cooperation drew the biggest applause of his speech. He was interrupted six times in all.

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Not all of his words were conciliatory. For example, the governor warned the legislators that if they do not provide him with sufficient money in the next state budget to fund a 3% “rainy day” reserve, he will veto enough spending programs to acquire the money himself. Democrats already have indicated they will oppose setting aside such a reserve at a time when the governor is expected to be trying to cut many social programs.

Deukmejian, anticipating criticisms of the new budget proposal he will send to the Legislature today, admonished the lawmakers that “rather than shout at each other or make intemperate remarks to the media, we (should) sit down together over the next five months to develop a budget plan that is balanced, fair and compassionate to all Californians.”

On transportation, an increasingly controversial issue as freeways become more clogged and highway construction wanes for lack of funds, Deukmejian sounded a little bit at times like his predecessor, Democrat Edmund G. Brown, Jr., an advocate of alternative solutions.

“I want to unlock gridlock in our state with a two-track approach: build more roads where needed and make better use of the transportation system we already have,” the governor said.

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“We must not underestimate the impact that ride sharing, mass transit and better traffic management can have on congestion. If we can increase the average number of riders per vehicle from 1.2 to 1.4, congestion would virtually disappear without adding a single additional mile of pavement to our system.”

Deukmejian said he has offered state workers “financial incentives” to ride-share and has asked major businesses to do the same for their employees.

But acknowledging that “we must also finance and build more highways,” the governor disclosed that he soon will invite legislative leaders and representatives of local governments, businesses and organized labor to meet with him “to develop a funding plan” to be submitted to voters in 1990.

Deukmejian provided few details of what he has in mind, however. Nor did he on most of the issues he touched on in his speech.

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The governor said he will invite legislative leaders “to sit down” with him “to thoroughly review the state budget process.” He proposed placing on the table for negotiation “all mandated entitlements, automatic cost-of-living adjustments in spending programs, as well a complete re-examination” of the spending limit.

Democrats never have really liked the spending limit, but they historically have been protective of “entitlement” programs for welfare families, the aged, blind and disabled and Medi-Cal recipients.

Deukmejian lamented that budgeting has become so restricted because of “statutes, constitutional amendments, court orders and other legal requirements” that the governor now has effective control over only 8% of state spending.

Regarding education, Deukmejian said he will propose that $110 million of the new Proposition 98 money be spent for teaching basic subjects and reducing class size. He also called for adoption of a comprehensive drug education program statewide, adding: “Saying ‘no’ to drugs must be part of the basic learning curriculum of every child beginning in grade school.”

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Working Prisoners

As for people convicted of drug crimes or any other felonies, Deukmejian said, “It is time that the criminals themselves worked and paid for their own upkeep.” He reiterated his longstanding conviction that inmates should be allowed to manufacture goods that can be sold outside the prisons.

The governor noted that labor unions have opposed this concept on grounds that it “would take jobs away from law-abiding Californians.” But he dismissed this argument, saying that even if every inmate worked, they would make up just 0.5% of the total state work force.

Deukmejian said he will try to place a state constitutional amendment on the 1990 ballot “to put into place a system where all able-bodied inmates are required to work and are charged for their room and board.”

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On other subjects, Deukmejian also:

- Called for a complete examination of the state’s 13 separate school dropout prevention programs, now costing $805 million a year. He said a new strategy should be developed because last year “an estimated 33% of high school students dropped out anyway.”

- Said a top priority of his Administration this year will be to develop a comprehensive plan for garbage disposal. “We’re running out of places to bury it or burn it,” he said, adding that he wants to work toward the goals of waste reduction and greater recycling.

- Noted that he will open a new California trade and investment office in Mexico City next month, and announced intentions to establish new branches to the state’s Tokyo and London offices somewhere in Asia and Europe. He did not say precisely where.

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- Proposed increasing the prison sentence for large-scale importation of heroin or cocaine to a minimum of 25 years without possibility of parole. He also advocated the death penalty for first-degree murder committed during a drug-related crime.

- Said he “would welcome the opportunity” to work with the Legislature in developing new political reforms to “restore the public’s confidence in the integrity of the legislative process.” The FBI currently is investigating alleged political corruption in the Legislature.

Favorable Reactions

The governor’s speech drew generally good reviews from legislative leaders.

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Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) said “it clearly was a speech of a statesman who’s on his way out.”

This means, Brown said, that “the governor is literally free of any need to consider political restraints and maybe we’ll see great leadership.” But Brown added that he wished that Deukmejian had advocated raising the gasoline tax to pump more money into the transportation building fund.

Senate Democratic leader David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), who frequently has feuded with Deukmejian, said the governor “was as friendly as could be. I’m not going to rehash past history. I’m going to accept his outreach.”

Assembly Republican Leader Ross Johnson of La Habra praised Deukmejian for agreeing to an earlier presidential primary. And he called the proposal to require prisoners to work “a terrific idea.”

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