Crucial Test for Sacramento

At least one Capitol observer has written, without exaggeration, that Senate Constitutional Amendment 1 is a test of whether Sacramento works anymore. The amendment sponsored by Sen. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) is the core of a program that can give California once again an education, transportation and general government program that begins to meet the state's real needs.

If the package fails, the big-money interest groups are certain to wage voter initiative warfare to win their own slices of the state revenue pie. There is no question who loses if such a battle erupts: Children, the elderly, the poor and a host of others who lack the big-bucks constituencies that can afford to use the initiative to snag a share of government for themselves.

The Legislature and the governor cannot afford to put state government on the auction block. To avoid that and to make Sacramento work, they are going to have to invest an extraordinary amount of energy, determination and good will into fashioning an SCA 1 package that is capable of winning the votes of two-thirds of the Legislature.

Garamendi's amendment would inject some reality into the Gann spending limits, imposedby passage of Proposition 4 in 1979, by providing for a modest liberalization of the formula based on state per-capita income rather than the national consumer price index, which usually lags behind California's economy.

The package also revises Proposition 98, the education establishment initiative of 1988, to scale back education's claim on future state surpluses, and to base general school-aid growth on a formula that better reflects actual growth in enrollment.

Also linked to SCA 1 is a critically needed 10-year transportation finance program based on a phased 9-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax increase. Without SCA 1, the new money could not be spent because it would exceed the current Gann spending limits.

The entire SCA 1 package seemed to be falling apart last week in a dispute over Proposition 98's guarantee that education gets at least 40% of general fund money. State Superintendent Bill Honig is correct when he says that abandoning the 40% factor would gut Proposition 98. There should be some way to retain the 40% provision, but to calm fears that the schools will get a disproportionate share of state income in leaner revenue years. Garamendi says some of last week's dispute flared over faulty figures, and there is fresh hope the differences can be resolved. They must be resolved.

The decisions made in the next 10 days could determine whether the Legislature and governor will retain control of the state budget, or whether it will go on the initiative campaign auction block. There is only one acceptable answer.

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