Michael V. Franchetti, who served as finance director under former California Gov. George Deukmejian and created a plan to reduce state spending in the early 1980s, died of a heart attack Feb. 14 at his home in Palm Desert. He was 64.
Once characterized as the governor’s closest advisor, Franchetti was hailed by former colleagues this week as a “strong and persistent voice for fiscal responsibility in state government.” Deukmejian described him as “highly talented, very personable and a genuinely fine human being.”
“As my chief deputy attorney general for four years, he was an extraordinary manager,” the former governor said in a statement. The plan he devised “enabled us to pay off the deficit, balance the budget, and do it without raising general taxes.”
The friendship between the two men extended to 1971, when Deukmejian was a state senator from Long Beach and Franchetti a lobbyist for the state Department of Justice under Republican Atty. Gen. Evelle J. Younger.
Together the two were instrumental in passing key laws, including legislation that reimposed the death penalty in California. In 1978 Deukmejian was elected attorney general and tapped Franchetti to serve as chief deputy attorney general.
After Deukmejian was elected governor in 1982, he selected Franchetti to head the Department of Finance, a position he could hold for a year without confirmation.
Faced with a state budget crisis, Deukmejian vowed to reduce a $1.5-billion deficit without a tax increase and to hold state spending in the 1983-84 budget to $22 billion.
A battle ensued with Democrats, who controlled both houses of the Legislature and protested the loss of funds needed for programs such as healthcare for the poor. Franchetti led the governor’s fight.
“ ‘We will spend and spend, and tax and tax, and elect and elect,’ characterizes well the public sector’s tendency to grow indefinitely,” Franchetti wrote in a 1983 opinion piece that ran in The Times. “Deukmejian is calling a halt to a government growth rate that outpaces growth in the private sector.... The state budget, like any California family’s budget, must be tied to economic reality.”
The governor declared his plan a success and sought to have Franchetti confirmed as director of the Department of Finance. But before the confirmation, an old political brouhaha resurfaced.
Democrats accused Franchetti of derailing the 1978 reelection campaign of then-Lt. Gov. Mervyn Dymally by leaking a false rumor that Dymally was about to be indicted. Dymally, a Democrat, lost the election to Republican Mike Curb.
Franchetti later said the source of the rumor was a Times reporter, who called the Justice Department trying to confirm its authenticity. Franchetti could not substantiate the rumor but included it in a report. The report was then passed to Dymally’s opponent and later to a television reporter. Then-Atty. Gen. Younger filed a letter of reprimand in Franchetti’s personnel records, accusing him of a breach of responsibility.
Before the confirmation vote in 1984, then-Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti requested that Franchetti apologize; Franchetti refused. Democrats voted against confirmation.
“There are far too many people who would crawl across a floor of broken glass to keep their jobs,” he said in a 1984 interview with The Times. “I could have kept this job if I had wanted.”
Republicans said the vote was political payback for the budget battles.
After leaving state government Franchetti entered a private law practice and worked as a lobbyist. In 1985 the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors hired him as a financial consultant responsible for explaining the county’s fiscal problems to the Deukmejian administration.
This year Franchetti, who was in private practice representing card clubs in the state, established a law firm with a partner.
Born in Oakland on Nov. 28, 1942, Franchetti grew up in Redding and received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of San Francisco. During the Vietnam War, he was an attorney with the Army and was awarded a Bronze Star.
In 1967 he married and later divorced Charlott M. Story, with whom he had two children. Franchetti is survived by his wife, Peg; his children, Christina Franchetti of Seattle and Victor Franchetti of Redding; and his sister, Victoria Haynes.