A Cruel Regression for a Growing California : Budget: Far more harmful than the delay in getting a state spending plan is the moral statement made by Gov. Deukmejian's choices for cuts.

California finally has a budget, and state services did not collapse during the record period of legislative deadlock. So the delay, while deplorable, has not produced lasting harm. What must be considered now is the moral statement that this final budget makes.

Gov. George Deukmejian has chosen once again a path that balances the budget on the backs of the elderly, the poor and the helpless. For example: $209.5 million was cut from health-care funding, including county mental health programs, the purchase of drugs and medical supplies under Medi-Cal and long-term care; $45.6 million from the Medi-Cal cost-of-living adjustment; $259 million from the automatic cost-of-living adjustment for the poor, disabled and aged; $600 from support services for local governments, such as trial courts and redevelopment agencies. The casualty roster is long.

There may be more than gubernatorial stubbornness at stake here. Deukmejian goes out of office a true-grit fiscal conservative, able to offer to President Bush his candidacy for a coming vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. What better credentials could there be: a former California governor (as in Earl Warren); a minority (Deukmejian is an Armenian); a standard-bearer for the Republican Party and a hero to the party's conservative wing.

My theory is not based on partisanship or personal disrespect. In fact, I should share a secret that I have kept for years--another Republican governor, Earl Warren, was in my eyes a role model, a public figure to whom I pay the highest honors. As his attorney general, I watched Warren master the budget process during times of unprecedented growth in California. He was a visionary who started to plan for our infrastructure needs, for a thriving, diversified economy, and for the health and welfare needs of the citizens of this state. Warren's path to the Supreme Court was molded through compassion, compromise and commitment and he went on to serve the people of this nation as the great protector of the Constitution.

But Deukmejian's budget, which closely reflects the priorities he originally sent to the Legislature, fails in every way to respond to the rapid growth in this state. California adds nearly 1,600 new residents every day--a city the size of Camarillo or Merced every month, or one new Ventura County every year. And while the rate of growth is expected to slow from 22% in the decade of the 1980s to about 15% in the 1990s, the total numbers will continue to rise dramatically. At the last census in 1980, California had 24 million residents. Current estimates project a rise in that figure will rise to 29 million in 1990, 31 million in 1995, and nearly 35 million in 2005.

The social costs of growth are alarming. The economic gaps and social inequities inherent in a two-tier society are likely to widen. The state's budget is supposed to embody our collective blueprint for social action. Unfortunately the only "blue" Deukmejian has known is the mighty, slashing "blue pencil" that he has wielded for eight years.

In contrast, during the tenures of Earl Warren and myself, we created a model of moral acceptibility that permeated the budget process. Across the board, social spending matched the growing demographic needs of the state.

Certainly some of the responsibility for a crueler California belongs to Proposition 13 and its brethren propositions of the so-called voter revolt, which have hobbled state spending and diminished the power of the Legislature to govern. But attitude counts. And what Gov. Ronald Reagan began, Gov. George Deukmejian has enthusiastically carried on.

Stripping aside numbers and percentages, what type of moral government denies pre-natal care to poor mothers, only to face the higher social and monetary costs of later treating their more acute illnesses in our county hospitals? Or ceases to provide decent treatment to the mentally ill? Or in the increased fees for the state's universities, making it that more difficult for minority students to attend? Paraphrasing an axiom oft used by Hubert Humphrey, the true moral test of any government is the way we treat those in the sunrise and sunset of life--the children, disabled and aged of California. Clearly, the moral high ground must be seized as California welcomes its next governor in November.

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