CAMPAIGN WATCH : Give Us a Hint

California is in its second week without a state budget. Gov. George Deukmejian insists that the $3.6-billion deficit must be eliminated without a tax increase. Democratic legislators resist any solution that relies solely on cuts. The result is a fiscal crisis that deepens with each passing day.

California also is in the second month of a gubernatorial campaign. Republican Pete Wilson and Democrat Dianne Feinstein both decline to take specific positions on the budget question.

It would be more than helpful, though, to know what their inclinations are on so fundamental a problem of governance, since it almost certainly will reoccur.

As John Vasconcellos, the obviously frustrated chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee put it, "If you're going to govern, you ought to tell people how you're going to govern."

Since Walter Mondale's disastrous experiment with candor in 1984, candidates have been reluctant to be specific about taxation. California voters, however, need to know where the candidates stand on taxes, the growth of entitlements and where their priorities are in an era of fiscal limits.

Both Feinstein and Wilson are instinctual moderates with pragmatic rather than ideological attitudes toward public policy. Since they are inclined to decide issues on a case-by-case basis, voters ought to judge them on the same basis. The budget crisis is as good a place as any to start.

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