SACRAMENTO — State Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig vowed Tuesday to mobilize 2 million California parents in a statewide campaign to fight Gov. George Deukmejian's spending plan for public education, claiming that the governor broke faith with a pledge to make school finance his top budget priority.
Honig, still bristling over the state budget that Deukmejian proposed last week, said the $39-billion plan would increase school spending only by about 1%. And he said that he felt betrayed by the governor.
Although he did not mention names, Honig said: "The promise was made to me personally. They said if you stick with us and support us and go with us, we will increase the percentage of the budget (for education) over the next four years."
Honig vowed to defeat the governor's austere budget proposal, which Deukmejian said resulted from a spending cap put in the state Constitution by voters in 1979 as well as a leveling of tax revenue.
"We are going to take our case to the public," Honig said. "When they get to these kinds of facts, the numbers, they will be plenty mad, hopping mad. I don't think the public is going to stand for this magnitude of cuts."
'Harm for Children'
Honig, during a news conference at the Department of Education headquarters here, said: "I don't agree with this priority. I think it is going to have a tremendous amount of harm for children . . . and we are going to try to change it by every means at our hand. It is called democracy.
"We are going to go after about 2 million parents, and we're going to get each school organized."
Deukmejian aides could not be reached for comment about Honig's assertion that a promise to him had been broken.
But before the press conference, Steven A. Merksamer, Deukmejian's chief of staff, rejected the argument Honig has been making recently that education is no longer the governor's top priority.
Merksamer said that "64% of all the new money we've budgeted over the last four years has gone to education. I think the governor has done more for education than any other single leader in the last 20 years."
In his budget remarks, Deukmejian said of the new spending plan that "schools will continue to receive 55 cents of every general fund dollar, making education California's highest budget priority once again."
Deukmejian's new state budget gives school programs only a 2.2% cost of living increase, which is not expected even to match inflation. Also, the increase is effective only for the last six months of the fiscal year.
Honig said that while Deukmejian's first four budgets did give education a generous share of new state revenues, the new budget proposal provides public schools with an increase of only $123 million. That represents only about 9% of the $1.5 billion in new revenues that the state will have to spend, Honig said.
Honig charged that the budget plan represents "a complete reversal from the kind of support we've received in the past."
The schools chief said public schools in California need $750 million from the state just to pay for inflationary increases in items like textbooks and teacher salaries, and to meet the needs of an estimated 100,000 new students who will enter the school system next year.
Honig said school teachers might have to be laid off and school districts probably will have to reverse their recent trend of improving teacher salaries, extending class hours and improving curriculum.
For Honig, the threatened statewide campaign to overturn the governor's proposed budget is a decided departure from the relatively low political profile he maintained during his first four-year term. But it follows an announcement he made during his second-term inaugural address that he would sponsor a statewide ballot measure to raise the constitutional spending limit.
As for a drive to beat back the governor's budget plan, Honig, a political independent, said he hoped to draw support from both Democrats and Republicans.
Honig said the situation was similar to one in 1983, when the state faced a $1.5-billion budget deficit and he and the Legislature fought Deukmejian on cuts in education spending as a way to reduce the red ink.