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State Programs Face 15.5% Cut : Budget: Wilson and legislative leaders agree to seek sharp reductions in health, welfare and other programs.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gov. Pete Wilson and legislative leaders agreed Wednesday to seek spending cuts as deep as 15.5% in health, welfare and other state programs in order to balance the budget without a tax increase, Wilson and Administration officials said.

The Republican governor and the Democratic and Republican leaders in the Assembly and Senate asked three legislative “working groups” and a two-house conference committee to identify by today the specific reductions needed to cut spending to the level they agreed upon.

Their goal is to reduce general fund spending from this year’s $44.2 billion to the $38.4 billion expected to be available in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The move represented the first tangible progress that Wilson and the legislative leaders have made toward agreement on the budget. But a spokesman for one Democratic participant--Senate Leader David A. Roberti of Van Nuys--cautioned that Roberti had agreed only to exploring the spending cuts, not enacting them.

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“These are goals,” said Steve Glazer, Roberti’s press secretary. “It would not be right to say that Roberti has agreed to any of the specific components that may make up that amount. He will wait to see what the severity of these cutbacks will mean.”

The other legislative leaders are Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown of San Francisco and Senate Republican Leader Ken Maddy and Assembly GOP Leader Bill Jones, both of Fresno.

Although Wilson proposed deep budget cuts in health and welfare in January, he and the legislative leaders have torn up the governor’s original proposed budget and are starting over from scratch.

According to Administration officials, the tentative plan in the works assumes that public schools and community colleges would lose $2.3 billion from anticipated spending, the maximum cut allowed under voter-approved Proposition 98. But so far, neither Wilson nor any of the legislative leaders have committed to making that cut.

The leadership group also postponed any decision on how much to cut from higher education and the state prison system. Those programs may be targeted after the leaders see exactly what the reductions in the programs they identified Wednesday would look like.

Specifically, Wilson and the lawmakers asked for cuts in health and welfare programs that would reduce spending from this fiscal year’s level of $12.73 billion to $11.7 billion next year. That would be the equivalent of a 15.5% cut after adjusting for the expected growth in the number of Medi-Cal patients and welfare recipients.

The leadership group also requested cuts of $197 million in general government, $105 million in the Resources Agency, $45 million in the State and Consumer Services Agency, $32 million in Business, Transportation and Housing, and $15 million in the Environmental Protection Agency. Each cut represents about 15% from what the agencies are expected to spend this year.

Although the Wilson and legislative leaders have not decided how to handle the Proposition 98 issue, they are seeking to cut $166 million from the portion of kindergarten through community college spending not covered by the constitutional amendment. The operating budgets for the legislative, executive and judicial branches would be sliced $267 million under this plan.

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Up to $1 billion might be transferred to the general fund from smaller special funds, which contain money set aside by law for specific purposes, such as wildlife protection and business regulation.

Another $1 billion or so might be taken from local government, depending on the level of cuts agreed upon in other areas.

The working groups that will identify the cuts are made up of Democrats and Republicans from both houses of the Legislature.

The next step for Wilson and the others is to take the reports from the working groups and seek agreement on exactly which cuts to make. If they reach an accord, they will draft it as legislation and try to move it through both houses of the Legislature by Monday, the deadline in the state Constitution for the Legislature to enact a balanced budget.

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