After 5 Years, Davis Leaves a Lasting Imprint

Times Staff Writers

For now, and perhaps forever, Joseph Graham Davis will be remembered as the first governor recalled from office by the people of California.

But Davis’ ouster, amid deep public disillusionment with his style of governing, will be only part of his legacy.

Davis arrived in office in good times. The state budget was flush with a surplus in the billions, thanks to hefty tax receipts in the dot-com boom.

On Monday, his tenure will end in a third year of budget shortfalls. His replacement, Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger, will inherit a projected deficit of $10 billion, maybe more.


While in office, Davis signed bills that increased regulation of the health-care industry, banned the sale of military-style semiautomatic guns and entitled low-income students to state aid for college tuition.

Under his governorship, the state bought thousands of acres of parkland and launched one of the largest public works projects in state history, the reconstruction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. And Davis signed legislation creating a holiday to honor Cesar Chavez.

Although Davis often declared his dislike of wagering and support for only modest growth in gambling, he also negotiated agreements that legalized Nevada-style casinos on Indian reservations.

The first Democratic governor after 16 years of Republican chief executives, Davis signed 5,175 bills sent to him by a Democratic-controlled Legislature and vetoed 1,085.

How history will judge his imprint on the Golden State remains to be seen. “History,” said San Jose State political scientist Larry Gerston, “has a funny way of putting things into perspective that we don’t always appreciate at the time.”

What follows is a look at some key areas in which Davis influenced state policy.

Taxes, Spending

The state budget, estimated to be $100.9 billion, reflects a $27.7-billon increase over Wilson’s final budget. Spending rose by $23.8 billion during Wilson’s eight years, from $49.4 billion to $73.2 billion.


While Davis was governor, the number of state workers increased by 10%, to 311,900, compared to 8% during Wilson’s two full terms, from 261,700 to 282,860. The state payroll also grew at a faster pace: 30% during Davis’ five years to $17.4 billion.

Davis also was a builder. In his time, California spent $29.5 billion on highways, $4 billion more than in the preceding five years. But with this year’s budget cuts, the state will be spending slightly less in 2003-04 than was spent in Wilson’s final year.

Davis cut taxes in his first two years, then reversed course as budget shortfalls deepened. The sales tax fell by a quarter of a percentage point in the 2000-01 fiscal year but ticked back up the following year, costing consumers $1.1 billion each year since.

In his second year, Davis pushed through the Legislature an income tax break for public school teachers. He suspended it this year. As part of this year’s budget deal, Davis and lawmakers agreed to end a tax break for manufacturers, costing them as much as $400 million annually in years to come.


Davis and legislators also raised fees this year by $900 million annually for everything from trial court filings and fishing licenses. This year, Davis raised the so-called car tax back to its 1999 level -- costing vehicle owners $4 billion a year. Wilson had pushed through the car tax cut at the end of his tenure, although Davis accelerated it. Davis will have increased Californians’ collective tax bill by $3.4 billion.

Public Schools

Davis repeatedly called education his “first, second and third priority.” Over the last five years, Davis and the Legislature spent an additional $9 billion on kindergarten through high school education.

The state will spend $6,887 per pupil this year, almost 20% more than the $5,757 spent in 1998-99. The National Education Assn. places California 29th in per pupil spending, up from 43rd when Davis took office. California teachers are the highest paid in the nation.


Expanding programs begun under Wilson, Davis pushed legislation to hold schools and teachers more accountable for student test scores. But a high school exit exam that he proposed has been delayed until 2006 amid fears of high failure rates. Scores on the Academic Performance Index, used to rank students, improved for five years running in elementary schools.

Davis’ administration raised fees at the the University of California, in California State University system and at community colleges. In 1998-99, UC fees were $4,037 a year and state university fees were $1,873. Now, UC fees, including campus-imposed fees, are $5,437, and state university fees are $2,554.

Davis has said Institutes for Science and Innovation, being built at four UC campuses at a cost of $400 million, will be among his lasting legacies. He envisions that academic researchers will team up with private industry to conduct research and develop technologies.

Health Care


Nine months after taking office, Davis signed 21 bills overhauling state regulation of the health-care industry, reforms considered among the most sweeping in the nation.

The heart of the package was creation of a Department of Managed Care to oversee health maintenance organizations and assist patients with questions and complaints, partly with a 24-hour toll-free help line.

Other bills gave patients the right to sue HMOs, obtain second opinions and appeal coverage denials. Davis also signed bills requiring HMO coverage of mental illness treatment, contraception and cancer screening.

At the same time, Davis expanded Healthy Families, a program begun under Wilson that provides health insurance for low-income children. When Davis took office, there were about 100,000 children enrolled. Now, the number is close to 700,000.


Healthy Families is one of the fastest-growing parts of the budget. Its growth helps explain why health and social services accounted for the largest chunk of new spending under Davis -- 43% of all the dollars added.

Davis contended that Healthy Families was cost-efficient. By providing basic care such as immunizations and checkups, he argued, the state could reduce the number of more expensive medical problems.


Davis signed 447 bills backed by organized labor, according to the Senate Labor Committee.


He expanded workers’ rights to sue employers, enriched benefits for local government workers, required that workers receive top union wages on public works projects and limited privatization of state functions.

Reversing a Wilson administration policy, Davis also signed a bill requiring that people earning hourly wages receive overtime after working eight hours in a day, rather than 40 hours in a week.

For most of his time in office, Davis sought to hold down salaries for state workers who are not firefighters or in law enforcement. But he ultimately granted them richer pensions and future pay hikes.

Davis and the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. last year agreed to a five-year contract boosting members’ pay by as much as 37% by 2006, at an annual cost of $500 million. The guards’ union gave Davis $1.4 million in direct and indirect campaign donations in his first term.


On other fronts, Davis’ appointees raised the state minimum wage to $6.75 from $4.25. The governor signed legislation raising workers’ compensation benefits to $602 a week this year and $840 by 2006. It was $490 a week when he took office.

Unemployment insurance benefits rose from $230 to $370 a week.


Davis signed gambling agreements with Indian tribes in 1999, his first year in office, and voters ratified the deals. Since then, Indian casinos’ revenue, closely guarded by most tribes, has risen from an estimated $1.5 billion in 1999 to about $5 billion a year.


There were 38 casinos with 19,137 slot machines -- usually the most profitable part of any gambling hall -- when Davis took office. Now there are 54 casinos with 54,000 slot machines, the Gambling Commission estimates. Four tribes with new compacts could add 2,700 slot machines.

Under the Davis compacts, individual tribes cannot have more than 2,000 slot machines.

At least 15 tribes have hit that ceiling, and will be pressing the incoming governor for more slot machines. Horse tracks and card rooms also are hoping to win the right to install slots.



Spending on prisons for adults and juvenile offenders is rising, fueled by salary increases and rising inmate medical costs.

The annual prison budget rose 30% during Davis’ tenure, to $5.4 billion and probably more. The Department of Corrections recently said it would need another $545 million to cover costs this year.

Davis resisted cutting the Department of Corrections’ budget. Instead, he pressed for construction of a $335-million maximum-security prison in Delano, scheduled to open next year.

Davis’ hand-picked parole board recommended freedom for 269 murder convicts in the last five years.


Davis repeatedly overruled the board, agreeing to release just eight.

By contrast, Wilson freed more than 25 murderers in his last three years alone.


Davis signed the nation’s first regulation of the automobile tailpipe emissions blamed for global warming, and approved fees on computer monitors and television sets to pay for recycling programs.


The state approved a marine reserve to protect undersea habitat.

To replenish fisheries, Davis’ Fish and Game Commission appointees made 175 square miles surrounding the Channel Islands off-limits to harvest.

The number of state parks increased by 11 under Davis, including two old rail yards to be converted to urban parkland near downtown Los Angeles.

And voters approved four water and parks bonds totaling $10 billion. Under Davis, the state bought 8,000 acres for state parks and 20,000 acres along the coast.



The landmark deregulation of electricity under former Gov. Wilson imploded on Davis’ watch.

Facing blackouts and soaring wholesale energy costs in 2000 and 2001, the Davis administration dramatically altered California’s electricity regulatory system.

Twenty-four power plants were built, adding enough capacity to supply more than 6 million people.


Electricity costs increased. The typical Southern California Edison homeowner paid $85 for electricity in September 1998 and $91 this past September. Commercial power bills rose more, from $1,805 for a mid-sized business to $2,021 this year.

Energy didn’t register as an issue in the 1998 campaign.

But when the state energy crisis occurred, Davis was criticized for failing to be decisive.

Pacific Gas & Electric placed much of the blame for its filing for bankruptcy on him.


Davis’ plan to buy a massive system of transmission lines never came to pass.

But he began re-regulating the industry, streamlined the process for getting permits to build power plants and invested nearly $1 billion in energy conservation programs.

At the urging of Democratic lawmakers, Davis signed legislation to create a state-run agency with the authority to build power plants in the public interest.

Gay Rights


Davis, a cautious and moderate politician, took a leadership role on gay-rights issues. It was one area in which he consistently agreed to bold changes.

The Legislature approved, and Davis signed into law a wide range of benefits and protections, including a domestic partner registry. It allows gays to record their relationships with the state.

Gays couples who register will have the right to make medical decisions and funeral arrangements for each other, collect on a partner’s government benefits and obtain child custody or financial support after a partnership ends.

Critics called his expansion of domestic partner rights an attack on the institution of marriage -- and a subversion of Proposition 22, a successful 2000 ballot measure that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.