SACRAMENTO — The Legislature voted Friday to place $1.3 billion in education and clean water bonds on the Nov. 4 ballot but--in a heated election-year battle--rejected a toxics cleanup bond issue sought by Gov. George Deukmejian.
Handing the Republican governor yet another defeat on the toxics issue, Assembly Democrats refused to approve a $150-million hazardous waste cleanup bonds bill they feared would help Deukmejian in his reelection campaign.
Voters will have the opportunity at the general election to decide four bond measures, which Deukmejian said he will sign: $800 million to build school classrooms, $400 million to construct college facilities, $500 million to build prisons and $100 million to protect drinking water. The water and education measures were approved Friday, while the prisons measure won enactment Thursday.
The $1.8 billion total--the largest amount ever placed before the voters in a single election--reflected the Legislature's willingness to look for alternate sources of money in the face of a constitutional limit on state spending that is expected to take effect next year.
Attempts to win approval of five other measures totaling $500 million, including the governor's toxics cleanup proposal, disintegrated when Assembly Republicans refused to go along with a deal that would have put all five on the ballot.
Democrats believed that Deukmejian wanted the toxics bond issue to bolster his record on the cleanup of hazardous wastes and to counter a "get-tough-on-toxics" initiative already on the Nov. 4 ballot. The initiative was sponsored by environmentalists and by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, Deukmejian's Democratic gubernatorial opponent, who has attempted to make the governor's toxics record a major issue.
"It has become very clear that the only weakness that is clearly at this moment visible in (Deukmejian's) operation in his first three years and seven months of his governorship has been his poor handling of the toxics issue," said Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco). "That fact and that fact alone apparently generated greater interest from the Administration in terms of energy behind their toxic proposal for the 1986 ballot."
Attempting to use Deukmejian's interest in the measure to their advantage, Democrats agreed to put it on the ballot if Republicans would support bond issues to build libraries, buy school buses, preserve coastal property and clean up Mexican sewage that spills across the border in San Diego and Imperial counties.
Deukmejian and the Senate were willing to go along with the deal, legislative leaders from both parties said. However, Assembly Republicans rejected spending proposals they perceived as beneficial to Democratic lawmakers who, they noted, are also up for reelection.
"We're not going to mortgage our children so they can have their pet projects," said Assembly GOP Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale. "The deal was totally unacceptable from the start."
The Assembly rejected the toxics bond issue by a vote of 34 to 11, with 54 votes needed for passage. The lower house then recessed for a monthlong summer vacation. The Senate did so an hour earlier.
Deukmejian, who has twice been unable to win approval of his plans to reorganize the state's hazardous waste program, played down the defeat of the toxics bond measure and praised the Legislature for approving the other four ballot measures.
"Although the Legislature had a chance to bat five for five for the people of California, four for five is not a bad batting average," Deukmejian said in a statement. "However, I am disappointed that the Legislature did not give the voters the chance to approve a comprehensive, $150-million toxic waste control bond issue."
Brown left open the possibility of negotiating a new deal when the lawmakers return Aug. 11 to approve the toxics bond issue and the other four measures that were rejected.
However, the technical deadline for placing measures on the ballot elapsed Friday. If additional ballot proposals were adopted next month, it would cost an additional $1.5 million to print supplemental ballot pamphlets, which would not be delivered to voters until mid-October, said the office of Secretary of State March Fong Eu.
One measure rejected by the Assembly that was not included in the package deal was a measure by Assemblyman Gray Davis (D-Los Angeles) that would have placed $100 million on the ballot for construction of housing for senior citizens. It fell one vote short when Davis, a candidate for state controller, traveled to Los Angeles, believing that the measure would not come up for a vote.
The $800-million school bond measure by Assemblywoman Teresa P. Hughes (D-Los Angeles would provide up to $360 million to remodel existing school buildings, with the remainder going for the construction of new buildings. A seven-member allocation board would distribute the funds to the most needy districts.