Holding up California as a national model, Gov. Pete Wilson said in a speech Thursday that his tenure in office demonstrates that government is capable of fiscal discipline even when it requires bipartisan compromise.
Wilson took credit for passing budgets so tight during the last two years that the state received more in taxes than it spent. As a result of the cuts, Wilson boasted that the state budget he proposed in January is now about one-third less than a state commission predicted it would be before he took office in 1991.
"I have spent an entire career in public life controlling spending and cutting taxes," the governor said to a luncheon meeting of the California Taxpayers Assn. "It goes against my grain and against my genetic makeup to raise taxes."
Wilson, however, is still the target of conservative Republicans because he supported the largest tax increase in California history in 1991. In his speech Thursday, he portrayed that decision as a "deal with the devil" necessary to bridge a $14-billion budget gap and to wrest deep spending cuts from the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
"The only way they would agree to the kind of historic spending controls that we needed to put in place--slamming the brakes on runaway autopilot spending--was if we agreed to raise taxes," he said. "As a result, we achieved spending cuts in California that so greatly exceed anything Congress has ever been able to make."
Thursday's speech was a look at Wilson's latest road show, a self-analysis of his record in office and his outlook for the state that comes at a time when he is in the national spotlight as a possible candidate for the White House in 1996.
Wilson's first term in office was dominated by news of controversial budget decisions such as the tax increase, spending cuts in social programs and a 63-day period in 1992 when lawmakers could not agree on a budget for so long that state employees had to be paid with IOUs. Today, the state's economic forecasts are optimistic, but the government is trying to erase a $2-billion debt.
Last week, Wilson talked about his economic plans with home-builders in Los Angeles and today he is scheduled to make a similar address to a meeting of national investors in San Francisco.
The speeches have become a forum for him to cast those controversies of the past as evidence of leadership through adverse economic and political conditions. At the same time, he is lobbying public opinion for an economic package he presented in January that includes a proposed 15% income tax cut for individuals and businesses.
On Thursday, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) declared that the governor's tax cut will not pass the Legislature, where the two parties have become increasingly partisan and Democrats have grown more hostile toward the governor.
Wilson said he hopes that the Speaker will reconsider because he believes the tax cut is necessary to keep businesses from fleeing California to other Western states with lower tax rates. "Cutting taxes is not just an important step, it is essential," he said.
The governor also blasted the U.S. Senate for failing to pass the balanced budget amendment.