Gov. Pete Wilson rejected the charge Tuesday that he is holding up the state budget, placing the blame instead on Assembly Democrats for avoiding decisions on public safety and social spending bills in part to damage his presidential campaign.
Wilson has been the target of several angry speeches from Democrats who want him to help the beleaguered budgets of Los Angeles and Orange counties by allowing them to shift money from their transportation budgets.
Wilson said Tuesday that he is undecided about the matter since several leaders in Los Angeles, such as Mayor Richard Riordan, are in disagreement with the city’s Democratic Assembly delegation about whether the action is prudent. One risk, Wilson said, is that the loss of local transportation money could jeopardize federal matching funds.
More important, the governor argued that the transit issue is a politically motivated distraction orchestrated by Assembly Democrats to avoid a vote on five so-called trailer bills that are required to implement some controversial social spending plans in the budget.
“This is a real red herring,” Wilson said. “The Los Angeles County Democrats . . . are holding all of the other counties hostage.”
The presidential race “may be part of it,” the governor added in an interview with The Times. “If so, they may be aiming at me, but the people they’re hitting with their fire are the schoolchildren who are being denied the best education budget in memory.”
Privately, some Capitol officials cast the stalemate as a showdown between the Democrats’ push for the transit legislation and a Wilson-backed measure pending in the Assembly that would deny state funds for prenatal care to illegal immigrants.
The prenatal care bill was rejected by the Legislature last year, but it was approved recently in the Democrat-controlled state Senate. Democratic leaders in the Assembly, however, say flatly that it will not pass in the lower house. And they charge that Wilson is holding out the L.A. County transit measure as a lever to help him win passage.
“Everybody has said that [it will not pass] on both sides of the aisle,” said Darolyn Davis, spokeswoman for Assembly Democratic Leader Willie Brown of San Francisco. “There has to be a compromise on some issues like prenatal [care] that he doesn’t have the Democratic votes for. You can’t browbeat people into voting for something that they fundamentally don’t believe in.”
Wilson countered that if the Assembly does not pass the prenatal care measure that was approved by the state Senate, a $58-million hole will be left in the budget. In that case, Wilson threatened to make up the loss by using his line-item veto and carving funds from the offices of individual legislators.
“I’ve got to go into the budget someplace with a blue pencil,” he said. “It wouldn’t be pretty.”
Wilson linked the arguments over the prenatal bill with last year’s Proposition 187, which also sought to cut public benefits to illegal immigrants. “The same people who refuse to accept the public mandate on 187 are very arrogantly again thumbing their nose at the voters and the public,” he said.
Wilson said he still is deciding whether to support the measure allowing Los Angeles and Orange counties to transfer transportation funds. Especially in Los Angeles, he urged local officials to reach a consensus on the best approach.
The measure would allow Los Angeles County to shift $75 million in transportation funds in each of the next five years and for Orange County to shift $70 million for the next 15 years.