State Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig left the neutral corner and threw his support Wednesday behind the campaign to win voter approval of a constitutional amendment to lift the state spending limit.
Honig, who just last month hinted that he might not support the proposed measure in next June's primary election, said in a letter to Gov. George Deukmejian that he would be "pleased" to join the campaign.
Deukmejian welcomed his one-time political adversary to the "team" that supports the $18.5-billion, 10-year transportation plan that would be implemented if the spending limit is lifted.
"I couldn't be more pleased to learn of Bill's support, and while still realizing we have a tough job in front of us, I am further convinced that gaining voter approval of SCA 1 is realistic and doable," Deukmejian said.
"Backing for this measure is beginning to snowball," the governor said.
Later in the day, the Republican governor met privately with legislative leaders for 90 minutes to set priorities for the final three weeks of this year's session. They discussed the campaign to pass the ballot measure, plus legislation on health insurance, a plan to overhaul the state's $8-billion workers' compensation system, solid waste disposal and budget vetoes.
Democratic leaders said the governor asked them to round up financial and political support for the ballot measure. They also said that Deukmejian reported he intends to head the campaign.
The governor and legislative leaders put the proposed constitutional amendment together in June as part of a complex package tying together implementation of Proposition 98, the landmark school funding measure approved by voters last year, with a transportation expansion program requiring a proposed 9-cents-a-gallon hike in the gasoline tax.
Honig's support was widely viewed as a big boost to the campaign to pass the measure to remove the ban on spending. Other school interests, particularly the California Teachers Assn., are still studying the measure.
Sen. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove), who carried the legislation putting the spending limit measure on the June ballot, said, "Honig is a key in obtaining education support" for the proposition.
Garamendi is carrying follow-up legislation to the Proposition 98 implementation bill. The bill was taken off the Assembly Ways and Means Committee agenda Wednesday for amendments. Garamendi said he had made no deals in return for his support for the ballot proposition. "I haven't made any promises to the superintendent, but I think his concerns will be addressed," Garamendi said.
In a related development, it was learned that the Associated General Contractors of California has agreed to raise $1 million of the $5 million that supporters of the spending limit modification proposal say they will need to finance the campaign to pass the spending measure.
The association's president, Carl Otto, has already made a strong appeal to his membership for contributions. Writing in an association newsletter, Otto said, "Traditionally, we have been awful in our performance, coming no where close to the (financial) commitments made."
Otto added, "We cannot let that happen this time," noting that "as the first-line beneficiaries of $18.5 billion in transportation funding, we must set the example for others to follow."
Honig had adopted a neutral position because he said he felt the plan to implement Proposition 98 might cut too deeply into gains the schools made when voters passed the school funding measure. He said he wanted something more from the governor and Legislature.
But Wednesday, Honig said he was basically satisfied with the compromise on Proposition 98 implementation because the deal would still guarantee that schools will receive at least 40% to 41% of state tax revenues.
"We didn't get everything we wanted, but we got the essence of what we wanted," Honig said during an interview. He also said his support was not conditioned on getting further concessions in Proposition 98 implementation legislation or any other promises from either Deukmejian or lawmakers.
In his letter to Deukmejian, Honig noted that he had long sought changes in the spending limit in order "to meet the future needs of the state."
The meeting between Deukmejian and legislative leaders was their first since lawmakers returned from their monthlong summer recess Monday.