Governor's Agenda Made Few Gains in Legislature : Capitol: Wilson managed to pass some crime bills and welfare reforms. But his major goals of tax cuts and limits on lawsuits and regulations faltered.


The ambitious legislative agenda that Gov. Pete Wilson confidently described in January as the spoils of a Republican revolution was left largely unfulfilled when the Legislature recently adjourned for the year.

The governor succeeded in passing a few crime bills that had been long-stalled by Democrats, particularly an expansion of cases that are eligible for the death penalty.

He also won major parts of his welfare reform plan--reducing grant payments for the fifth consecutive year and toughening the eligibility requirements for teen-age mothers.

But the crown jewel of Wilson's California vision, as he outlined it in January to kick off his second term, was a package of reforms aimed at making the state more business-friendly.

The "California competitiveness" package, as it was dubbed by the governor's office, included a 15% cut in corporate and individual income taxes. It also called for sweeping changes that would make it harder for the Legislature to pass costly regulations and harder for lawyers to burden companies with lawsuits.

On Monday, three days after the Legislature adjourned the 1995 session, Wilson's office said it was disappointed that the package of reforms remains largely unresolved.

"It was basically a disappointing year for the Legislature," said Paul Kranhold, Wilson's press secretary. "Leadership squabbles in the Assembly and firm Democratic control in the Senate hindered our ability to push through reforms that the people voted for in November."

Kranhold said most of the bills will be reconsidered when the Legislature reconvenes next year. But the momentum of GOP euphoria that followed Republican gains in November's election has dissipated without providing much of a boost for the governor's platform.

Most of the GOP tail wind died when Democratic maneuvers in December prevented Republicans from winning control of the Assembly. The battle for control lasted right up until the end of the session last week when the third Assembly Speaker of the year was sworn into office.

Wilson's agenda was not the only casualty of the battle for control of the lower house since, overall, the Legislature managed to pass barely half the bills that it did last year.

Among the victims of the Assembly power struggle was Wilson's plan to weaken the California Environmental Quality Act by exempting various kinds of development from environmental review.

Shortly before a vote, Wilson supporters pulled the bill out of the Natural Resources Committee when GOP legislators charged that the body had been stacked to kill the measure in a hostile action by Speaker Doris Allen, the Republican renegade who broke ranks with her party to win election as Speaker.

"That got tied up with Doris Allen," said Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove). "She tried to kill it."

Wilson aides dismissed the criticism that the governor's agenda might have enjoyed more success if Wilson had not frequently been absent to run his presidential campaign.

But Democratic leaders said they are not surprised at the outcome of Wilson's legislative plans since they believe that they were designed more for political show than as a sincere attempt to change state policy.

They said Wilson's proposed tax cut was an example of a proposal that never realistically stood a chance of passing in the Legislature, but it was an important element of Wilson's presidential campaign.

The tax cut plan passed the Assembly with support from all of the Republican legislators, but it quickly failed in the Senate, where Democratic leaders complained that it would reduce funding for education.

Wilson immediately announced that he will seek passage of the tax cut next year on the California ballot. The governor has already started to raise money for a campaign to pass the income tax cut.

The cut was proposed in December by a Wilson-appointed council of economic advisers headed by former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz. The group concluded that the move was necessary to prevent businesses from moving to other states.

In an effort to avoid frivolous lawsuits and help businesses, Wilson supported a bill that would hold lawyers responsible for the lawsuits they file. That bill and other so-called tort reforms were sidetracked. Wilson officials said they hope to pursue them again next year.

Another area where Wilson's plan hit a roadblock was education.

In his State of the State speech, Wilson outlined a broad package of education reforms, including merit pay for teachers, a repeal of teacher tenure and a complete rewrite of the state Education Code. All of the reforms were turned back.

On welfare, Wilson failed to win approval of his plan to force recipients off the rolls after two years. But he won passage of a measure requiring teen-age mothers to live at home with their parents to receive benefits.

At Wilson's urging, the Legislature agreed to cut welfare payments, instituting for the first time a two-tier system that provides lower benefits for rural recipients than those in urban areas.

Kranhold said the bill will save state government $185 million a year, but it cannot be implemented until it receives federal approval.

Some of Wilson's biggest achievements of the year came outside the agenda that he outlined for the Legislature.

The governor repealed a number of affirmative action programs in state government that were under his jurisdiction as chief executive. He also persuaded the UC Board of Regents to eliminate race as a factor in hiring and admissions.

For the first time in four years, Wilson's finance department also predicted that the budget will grow into the black during the current fiscal year. For four years, the state has carried a debt between fiscal years that is now about $1 billion.

Wilson also was given credit by state educators this year for increasing funding for public schools by about $1 billion. The deal represented a compromise with Senate Democrats that led to a budget agreement 34 days past its deadline.

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