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Steady as She Goes

January 12, 1986

Steady, frugal government. That, generally, is what Gov. George Deukmejian has provided California for the past three years. And that, essentially, is what he promises for 1986 in his State of the State address and his 1986-87 budget. It is not spectacular, but it seems to fit the mood of post-Proposition 13 California. Not to be over-looked is the fact that Deukmejian's frugal leader-ship helped California emerge from the 1982-83 recession without a tax increase while most other states were raising revenues.

Given that framework, the Republican governor's priorities generally are in the right place. Specifically, his rhetoric and his budget continue to emphasize education while keeping most other programs at existing levels. The new budget of $36.2 billion provides $17 billion for all levels of education--an increase of nearly 9% over the current year and roughly 5% over expected inflation during the coming year.

Deukmejian's crusade to restore the stature of California's higher-education system to the level that it enjoyed in the 1950s and 1960s is a hallmark of his Administration. A 5% pay increase, which applies generally for most state employees, will maintain a modest edge in UC faculty salaries over comparable institutions. Also, the new budget appears to elevate emphasis on the role of the community colleges, relative to Deukmejian budgets of the past three years, as an integral part of the total higher-education scheme.

There never has been any question of Deukmejian's interest in the nuts-and-bolts work of state government in his years as a legislator and executive, and his seeming lack of national political ambition. This is a refreshing change from the previous 16 years of California chief executives. In his televised State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature Thursday night, the governor seemed to exhibit a new sense of confidence in his role as the state's chief executive going into the election year. While the phrasing of the address was similar to last year's, the delivery was more polished. And the governor, the son of Armenian immigrants, seemed to be truly moved when he spoke of California as America's frontier of opportunity for even the most humble of its citizens.

Deukmejian may have waxed overly eloquent in his vision of California as America's leadership state. Other governors have launched some uniquely innovative programs under considerably more adverse fiscal conditions. But there is no doubt that Deukmejian's emphasis on education will build a sound foundation for the future of California.

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