As Californians brace for tax hikes likely to be part of Gov. Gray Davis' plan for tackling the state's record $34.8-billion deficit, Davis is seeking to draw attention elsewhere.
Job creation, not tax hikes, is the theme Davis administration officials say they will trumpet at several events leading up to the unveiling of the budget plan Jan. 10. In an inauguration speech Monday, officials say, Davis will lay out a comprehensive economic proposal and jobs plan.
Republicans call it all a ruse intended to soften the blow of tax hikes. They are not impressed with what the governor rolled out on Wednesday to kick off the campaign -- an expansion of federally-funded programs to place disabled workers in jobs, train nurses and recruit unemployed computer workers to teach in public schools.
The initiatives would leverage about $20 million of new federal funding to create a total of 8,000 jobs.
"The economy is in the tank, revenues are nowhere and the governor thinks having a new government program for a thousand dot-comers is going to solve this?" asked Assemblyman John Campbell (R-Irvine), vice chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee.
"My response to this initiative is whoop-de-do," Campbell said. "There are 260,000 fewer high-paying manufacturing jobs in California than there were two years ago. A few thousand new jobs is not where we need to focus. We need to focus on freeing up the private sector to create hundreds of thousands of diverse, high-paying jobs."
Campbell and other Republicans say they will not vote for tax hikes, calling instead for balancing the budget with cuts alone. They also question whether the deficit is really as large as Davis says it is, suggesting he inflated the number in an effort to make tax increases more palatable to voters.
Davis announced on Dec. 18 that the budget shortfall had soared to $34.8 billion -- nearly $14 billion more than had been estimated a month earlier. He hinted at that time that he would push for tax hikes, remarking that his budget plan for 2003-2004 "will have further reductions and, in all likelihood, it will have some revenue increases."
He said that earlier projections by his office and others had been based on incomplete information on tax receipts and that it was not until last month that the Department of Finance had been able to accurately assess the extent of California's fiscal problems.
Administration officials said the job programs announced Wednesday are not token measures, but are part of a comprehensive plan to put thousands of Californians to work in areas where there is a need for employees, including health care and teaching. They also said that the initiatives would decrease the need for public assistance for California's poor and disabled by bringing them into the workforce.
"This is not only good for individuals, but it is also good for California and the economy," said Steve Smith, secretary of labor.
He and other department heads said Davis was using the federal funds to build on the success the training and placement programs have had so far.
That includes tripling the number of disabled Californians in the Jobs for All program, bringing it to 5,000 participants. The pilot program started last year to train unemployed high-tech workers to be teachers would grow from 300 to 1,300 participants.
And the nursing program would be expanded by 40%, with 2,000 new trainees.