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Davis Signs $81.3-Billion Budget With Line-Item Cuts

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Using California’s new spending plan as a campaign prop, Gov. Gray Davis signed an $81.3-billion state budget Tuesday, after last-minute wrangling in which the governor angered some Democrats and Republicans alike.

The Democratic governor used his line-item veto authority to shave $585 million from the Legislature’s version of the budget for the 1999-2000 fiscal year, striking especially hard at health and welfare programs championed by more liberal members of his own party.

Davis wielded his blue pencil to delete $262 million from health and welfare programs and $185 million from education programs pushed by legislators, including $10 million earmarked to increase the number of full-time community college teachers.

Clearly reveling in his first budget-signing, Davis laced his comments on the subject with words such as “historic” and “record.” Flanked by Democratic and Republican lawmakers, Davis proclaimed it “a banner day for cooperation and bipartisanship.”

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“This budget is on time and in balance. It is tough-minded and big-hearted,” said Davis, who signed it two days before the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.

It is only the second time in this decade that a governor has met the state deadline for having a budget in place.

The plan includes significant boosts for everything from parks and the environment to museums, welfare and health care. It contains more than $500 million in tax cuts, including a 10% reduction in the fees motorists pay to register their vehicles, and cuts fees by 5% at the University of California and California State University systems.

“Lots of other people have priorities for me. But I have one. That’s education,” Davis said.

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The budget increases state aid for schools by $2.3 billion, to a record $26 billion, and $38 billion when all money for schools is included. However, the $6,035 per pupil that the state will spend next year leaves California schools more than $1,500 below the national average.

In brief comments after signing the budget, Davis declined to pledge that he would strive to push California’s spending to the national average. “I want to change the culture of education from excuses . . . to higher expectations and performance,” he said.

The biggest education cut was $50 million for child care. Lawmakers had added the money, hoping to help welfare recipients who are returning to school care for their children. Davis suggested in his veto message that he might restore it later this year.

While all governors tout their budgets, Davis took the event to a new level of showmanship. As he descended stairs from the Capitol, a crowd of several hundred state employee union members, staffers and schoolchildren cheered.

A huge Bear Flag was draped behind him. Davis said he was dedicating the budget “to the children of this state, who represent an ideal that we can all share--that this is a great place where all things are possible and all dreams can come true.”

The governor wore a black suit, with his Bronze Star from Vietnam pinned to the lapel. Despite triple-digit heat, Davis scarcely perspired as he spoke and signed various bills that implement the budget and handed them them to lawmakers who showed up to be part of the pageant.

“This budget has the largest investment in the environment ever, and the largest expansion in health care in a decade,” Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) said. “Education was a big priority. It’s hard to lament about much.”

The expressions of goodwill notwithstanding, Davis continued to battle with lawmakers and others.

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Davis used his blue pencil to take a swipe at Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, deleting $832,000--a third of Bustamante’s $2.5-million piece of the budget. The lieutenant governor had planned to use the bulk of it for an economic development commission.

Davis also agreed to establish a commission to oversee the 2000 census, but only if Bustamante is not chairman. Previously, the Legislature approved the commission with Bustamante as its head.

Bustamante angered Davis by criticizing him for refusing to drop the state’s appeal of the anti-illegal immigration Proposition 187.

Among the major health care cuts, Davis reduced by almost $60 million a legislative effort to boost wages paid to people who care for disabled shut-ins. The move required legislative approval, and the Assembly reluctantly approved the bill Monday in a late-night session.

“It’s a compromise. It’s something we have to do,” Assemblyman Mike Honda (D-San Jose) said.

Davis also is seeking to cap the number of disabled illegal immigrants who can remain in nursing homes at state expense at no more than 385 individuals. Several Assembly Democrats refused late Monday to support legislation imposing the cap, prompting Villaraigosa to put off a vote until later this week.

The change would not save the state money. However, the governor is seeking to ensure that the number of illegal immigrants in nursing homes will not expand significantly in coming years.

“I do not want to mortgage future generations with programs we may or may not be able to afford,” Davis said.

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Davis cut $26.7 million from a Democratic plan to allow low-income working adults to receive health care benefits through the state-run Medi-Cal program. He left $41 million in place, however, allowing an estimated 250,000 more people to join the state care system.

Wading into Los Angeles politics, Davis vetoed budget language inserted by Eastside lawmakers that would have stripped $6 million from Los Angeles County unless the Board of Supervisors agrees to build a 750-bed replacement for County-USC Medical Center, rather than the 600-bed hospital a majority of the board supports.

At the same time, Davis angered Republicans by continuing to fund charter public schools, but only on the condition that the schools keep more complete attendance and performance records. The changes could hamper schools operated via the Internet that cater to children who are taught at home.

Assemblyman Steve Baldwin (R-El Cajon) denounced the effort as “outrageous,” saying it threatens to close 35 charter schools with 21,000 students.

Davis cut $77 million from the parks and environment budget. The cuts fell heaviest in Republican districts. Lancaster, for example, lost $1.45 million for a soccer center building, a fairgrounds exhibit hall and a park.

Despite losing some of his pork projects, Assemblyman George Runner (R-Lancaster) contended that Davis’ deletions in health and welfare programs indicated that the governor is taking a more conservative view of spending than many Democrats. “He moved the budget to the right,” Runner said.

Some other items that fell to Davis’ revisions:

* $7.5 million put in by Democrats to boost housing assistance and rehabilitation of housing for farm workers and other low-income people. The state will spend $10 million on such programs.

* $3 million that the Legislature had included to build a governor’s mansion. Davis said in his veto message that private donations should be used.

* $3.1 million to develop the state’s capability to launch commercial satellites, although Davis left $3.3 million in place for the program.

* $500,000 that Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer intended to use to review state agencies’ decision to deny access to public records.

Despite scattered grumbling, there was plenty of money for lawmakers’ pet projects, as California’s expanding economy made for a $4.5-billion surplus. The $81.3-billion budget represents a 10% increase from the one signed last summer. Davis maintained an emergency reserve of $881 million.

There is $1.8 million for a study of secession by the San Fernando Valley from Los Angeles to determine whether the Valley can succeed financially, and $4.7 million for new classrooms at Mission College.

There is $10 million for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, $5 million to buy 4,900 acres of land called the Palo Corona Ranch near Big Sur and $4 million to expand the Kenneth Hahn State Recreational Area outside Culver City.

Los Angeles fared well, receiving $30 million for parks and $12 million for museums. Other items include $250,000 for a dental clinic in Venice, $400,000 for a child care center in East Los Angeles, $700,000 for a San Gabriel River Conservancy and $1.5 million for park acquisition along the Los Angeles River.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

THE APPROVED BUDGET

Here is a detailed look at Gov. Gray Davis’ 1999-2000 state budget.

GENERAL FUND SPENDING

Education 41.5%

Health and welfare: 26.5%

Higher education: 13%

Prisons: 7%

Natural resources: 2%

Courts: 2%

Other: 8%

***

CATEGORIES OF GENERAL FUND SPENDING (in billions)

Education (kindergarten-12): $26.4

Health and welfare: $16.9

Higher education: $8.0

Prisons: $4.7

Other*: $5.6

Natural resources: $1.3

Courts: $1.3

TOTAL BUDGET GROWTH

Figures in billions of dollars

1999-2000: $81.3 billion

(Please see Editorial Art database on Mediasphere for full graph information.)

*Other spending includes consumer services, business, transportation and housing and other government programs.


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