Turning up the heat on Gov. George Deukmejian and his Republican allies in the Legislature, Assembly Democrats on Monday rushed through two bills that would restore more than $367 million in education funds cut from the state budget by the governor.
But while Democrats may be scoring political points with the teachers union and with voters who support increased education funding, it appeared that the prospect of actually restoring the $367 million was close to zero.
Assembly Republicans said Deukmejian is certain to veto the bills if they ever reach his desk. They suggested that Monday's action was designed to keep alive an issue Democrat Dianne Feinstein hopes to use in her campaign for governor against Republican U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson.
"This exercise probably has more to do with the gubernatorial campaign than anything else," said Assembly Republican Leader Ross Johnson of La Habra.
Even Senate leader David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) said the two Assembly-passed measures could expect rough treatment in his house. But Roberti said he hopes to use the bills, in part, to fashion a compromise with Deukmejian on education spending.
It would require a two-thirds vote of each legislative house to override any Deukmejian veto. Lacking Assembly support to override the vetoed education funding, Democrats placed the money in two Senate measures that required only a majority to pass. Both were approved with 42 votes--one more than needed--and returned to the Senate.
Deukmejian last month cut $480 million in education funds when he signed the $55.7-billion state budget. The cuts included $12 million for the California Assessment Program, a standardized testing program, and $355 million that would have given schools a 4.8% cost-of-living increase, rather than the 3% the governor had proposed.
The rest of the money Deukmejian cut, which lawmakers at this point are not trying to restore, went for a variety of programs, including driver education, extra funds for year-round schools and Education Department administrative costs.
Deukmejian said he vetoed the money for the testing program because he wanted it funded from the share of the budget the schools automatically receive under Proposition 98. In the budget passed by the Legislature, the money for testing was considered part of the Education Department's statewide administration and therefore did not count against education's guaranteed 42% of the budget.
The governor said he wanted most of the money he cut from the cost-of-living increases to go toward a program to reduce class size.
Assemblyman Rusty Areias (D-Los Banos), who carried the testing program measure on the Assembly floor, said there was no reason to change the way the state has paid for the program since its inception.
"This program is working," Areias said. "It's cost-effective. It's not broken. It doesn't need a fix."
Although the testing program appeared to have bipartisan support, only two Republicans voted to restore the money. Others said the funds should come from the Proposition 98 revenues.
There was more division over the question of reducing class sizes.