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COLUMN LEFT : Wilson’s Aim Is Job-Saving--His Own : With his scapegoating of welfare and other issues, he is stoking fires of divisiveness.

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<i> Phil Angelides is chairman of the California Democratic Party</i>

A recession. An economic downturn. A leveling off. Whatever the Republicans want to call it, California is deep in it.

More than 1 million Californians are out of work. Our unemployment rate is higher than the national average. State revenues have dropped precipitously, leaving a new state budget deficit of $3 billion.

The latest Field Institute poll shows that 85% of all Californians believe that the economy is in bad times. Only one in five believe that the economy will improve next year.

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How did Gov. Pete Wilson respond when it became clear that the state’s economy was reeling, consumer confidence lagging and the budget woefully out of balance? Like a demagogue, not a leader.

Unable to attack the policies of President Bush and without the vision to define a course of economic recovery, Wilson first told us that our budget problems were caused by immigrants placing undue burdens on health and welfare programs. His contentions are questionable. For example, although 13% of all Californians use Medi-Cal, only 10% of the state’s immigrants do so.

Then he released a report titled “California’s Growing Taxpayer Squeeze.” (This was not a report on how, under Reagan, Bush and Wilson, the rich got richer and the middle class got poorer.) The report’s assumptions were disputed by both the nonpartisan Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy and the Commission on State Finance. Both bodies have pointed out that this year’s deficit is due to the recession.

Still pointing his finger, Wilson traveled to Washington to tell us that Congress is the problem. It’s just too bad that he didn’t make his trip in time to stop the White House from cutting federal immigrant assistance.

Now, finally, he’s landed on the mother of all scapegoats: welfare. In doing so, he went to great pains to distinguish himself from David Duke, lest his actions and words leave us confused.

Will his latest proposal balance the budget? No. Public assistance to poor families and children constitutes only 5% of the state’s general fund.

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Wilson wants to cut welfare grants for recipients who don’t get a job. Where are the jobs? And what’s he doing to create them?

Public-assistance costs are up for one primary reason--no jobs. An AFDC program for families with two recently unemployed adults has the highest rate of growth of any of the state programs--22% in one year. During bad economic times over the last 20 years, the percentage of Californians on public assistance has risen from 9% to 10%. That’s where it is today. No extraordinary problem, just extraordinary politics.

So what is our governor up to? Saving his own job, while others lose theirs.

History has shown that societies have two roads to travel when times are tough. F.D.R. took the high road when he told us that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. Pete Wilson has taken the low road, telling us that the only thing we have to fear are immigrants, poor children and battered women.

The year started promisingly enough. Wilson and the Democratic Legislature began to put into place “preventive government” by expanding child care and maternal health programs. But as California’s problems get bigger and bigger, Wilson becomes smaller and meaner.

California needs real leadership and a meaningful economic-recovery package. But Wilson has not offered one idea on how to get California moving again.

It’s time for a tax system that rewards long-term investment, supports research and development, creates new jobs and enables middle-class families to succeed.

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It’s time to set the framework for the next economic expansion.

It’s time to put in place an industrial-growth policy designed to attract and keep businesses in California.

It’s time to invest in an education system worthy of a state that seeks to be a first-rate economic power.

It’s time to move forward on a growth-management strategy that responds effectively to the escalating demands that California faces.

Should we object to a governor who wants to thoughtfully examine our public-assistance programs? Absolutely not. Should we object to a governor who separates from the full policy debate the most explosive and divisive issues that can rend a society in a time of economic uncertainty? Absolutely.

Gov. Wilson is betting that his diversions will win the 1992 elections. Yet Californians will soon see that the governor’s proposals will not solve the recession. Then, Wilson may find that the fires of fear that he has stoked will consume him.

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